Burrowing Owl — It’s Good To Be Zygodactylous!

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I was out in agricultural country this morning searching for images and I encountered atrocious conditions.  There’s a storm headed this way that holds the potential for providing our first measurable rainfall since mid-September.  The farmers are frantically trying to bring in their cotton crop ahead of the storm and the fields were full of heavy equipment roaring back and forth.  Huge trucks were tearing up and down the dirt roads, lugging gigantic bales of cotton off to warehouses.  This activity plus the very dry conditions produced huge clouds of dust.  The near absence of wind caused the dust to just hang in the air and everything was immersed in a brown, choking fog.

Not a good day for taking pictures.  Normally when I’m out in the cotton fields I spend most of my time looking up at utility poles and the occasional tree in order to see if I can find perching birds.  Not today, photographing upwards through that dust curtain would have been pointless.  So, I redirected my vision and searched at ground level.  It didn’t take me long before I found a Burrowing Owl perching near its burrow.  The owl didn’t seem to mind the dust.  I watched it in amusement as the little bird sat there, calmly surveilling its domain amid the chaos caused by all of the heavy equipment and trucks.


Notice how the owl is standing on just one foot.  That’s a common resting posture for this bird and for most other raptors as well.  They don’t do that because their other leg is injured, it’s just a casual way of standing for these birds.

It comes naturally to them.  They are capable of spending long periods of time in complete comfort on just one leg and foot.  Look at the owl’s foot and you’ll understand why.  It has two toes facing forward and two facing backwards.  That’s known as a “zygodactyl” foot.  It’s a trait shared by all raptors and by some relatives, like parrots.  A zygodactyl foot gives the bird a lot of surface area on which to stand and it also spreads the bird’s weight uniformly.  It also enables the owl to grasp objects, like prey, with ease.  So, from the owl’s perspective, it’s good to be zygodactylous.  And, from my perspective, I’m pleased because I can use a fifty-dollar word several times in one blog.


Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 100-400 mm f4-5.6 zoom ISII lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 1000, f8 @ 1/2000.

One response to “Burrowing Owl — It’s Good To Be Zygodactylous!”

  1. tkiiatmindspringcom says :

    Always love Burrowing Owls, and it’s good to know the word “zygodactyl.” Never know when it will come up in conversation.

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