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In late spring for the past couple of years I’ve featured images of fledgling and juvenile Burrowing Owls. So far this year I’ve had zero luck finding any of these young birds. I’ve visited burrows that had active families last year and the year before. I’ve seen adult birds but no young ones. I’m beginning to conclude that the owls didn’t breed this year.
That’s a very disturbing development. I wonder if it has something to do with the terrible drought that has gripped Arizona for at least the last 18 months. During this period we have had virtually no rainfall. Weeks, even months, have gone by without a drop of rain. When it has rained, it has been light, patchy, and of short duration. The past 12 months in the Tucson area have been the driest in recorded history.
Many birds time their reproduction to the availability of prey. When prey is scarce the birds produce fewer offspring. When there is no prey the adults may not reproduce at all. Of course, the drought has affected the entire food chain. There are few forage crops for insects and rodents to feed on. That results in a diminished population of insects and rodents. That ultimately means hard times for the predators who hunt the insects and rodents.
There is a glimmer of hope. Forecasters are saying that we may have an average or even better than average summer monsoon season this year. Southern Arizona gets about 1/2 or more of its annual rainfall in the months of July, August, and September, in the form of thunderstorms. The official start of the summer monsoon season is June 15. More realistically, the storms should show up — if we have storms this year — right around July 4th. Fingers crossed!
Meanwhile, there are adult Burrowing Owls out and about, even if they’re not reproducing this year. Recently, I captured this bird going through its morning yoga.
I find Burrowing Owls to be among the most photogenic of all the species that I regularly encounter. They never seem to disappoint. This one certainly didn’t.
Image made with a Canon R5, Canon RF 100-500mm f4.5-7.1 IS L zoom lens + Canon RF 1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 500, f10 @ 1/640, + 1 stop exposure compensation.