Burrowing Owls — Family Portraits, Part I

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I’ve known for years that there are families of Burrowing Owls that nest alongside a farm road in rural southern Arizona.  I’ve visited these owls often and have been rewarded with images of adult males and females.  However, I’d never had success capturing images of an entire family of Burrowing Owls, consisting of both parents and their offspring.  I rectified that failure during the past week.

I’ll begin today with images of the parent birds.  Male and female Burrowing Owls have identical plumage but the males’ plumage is often lighter than that of the female birds.  That’s because the male tends to spend more time outdoors during daylight hours while the female tends to spend considerable time down in the burrow with her brood.  Male plumage gets bleached by the sun, female plumage less so.  Here are two images of the adult male of the family that I photographed.

Male and female Burrowing Owls seem to have distinct child rearing roles.   When the offspring are young and helpless the female tends to them while the male hunts for prey.  Prey for these owls can consist of any small creature ranging from insects, to lizards, to small rodents, and even smaller birds.

When I photographed this pair the female emerged from her burrow to give me a piece of her mind.  At first, she was clearly more upset by my presence than was the male, who seemed indifferent to me.

After a short period of time had elapsed the male, who had been perching several yards away from his mate, joined her and the two sat side by side.  Initially, the female continued to show a bit of wariness at my presence while the male acted as if he couldn’t care less about me.

After a few minutes the female seemed to accept me.  Perhaps, she was influenced by her mate’s attitude.  At any rate, they both dozed off.

A few days after I made these images I returned to these owls and, on this occasion, hit the jackpot, capturing photos of this pair’s four young owlets.  I’ll feature those images very soon.

Images made with a Canon 5Div, 400mm f4 DO II lens+1.4x telextender, aperture priority setting, ISO 640, f-stops and shutter speeds varied.


6 responses to “Burrowing Owls — Family Portraits, Part I”

  1. Lesley Bailey says :

    Love this, Steve. Did you make up the part about the male’s feathers being bleached by the sun? (-; Lesley

  2. Leslie says :

    Hi Steve, hope you are well are these the ones on Hardin? I’ve been out there and I wanted to ask you about the last two photos. I thought for sure the male is smaller than the female and I I thought too the lighter one is female. How can you be sure which is which? Leslie 😃

    • stevenkessel says :

      Hi, Leslie:

      Yes, these are the Marana owls. Sexual dimorphism doesn’t exist with Burrowing Owls and, although some of these owls are larger than others, you can’t predict gender based on relative size. Males tend to have paler plumage than females for the reason I explained in my blog. Also, if you look closely at the female (the smaller, darker bird) you’ll see what looks like a brood patch on her breast. Of course, I could be wrong — I often am!!


      • Leslie says :

        Thank you Steve!!! I guess I got it wrong haha! Oh well. They are certainly adorable!!! 😃

  3. Mary Donovan says :

    I can’t wait for the pix of the Burrowing Owlets!!! Don’t make me suffer like this!!!

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