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I’m returning to this blog’s southern Arizona theme.
A few days before leaving for Alaska I received a text from my friend Loren, which included an embedded image. I was unable to identify the bird depicted in that image without assistance from a couple of other friends. It was a fledgling Long-eared Owl.
Long-eared Owls are described in the field guides as being rare and inconspicuous. There may be more of these birds than we realize, but they are difficult to find due to their habit of hiding in dense foliage during daylight hours. In southern Arizona they are sighted from time to time, often during the winter months. Last winter I saw but was unable to photograph one of these birds hiding in a dense mesquite thicket in a state park.
I didn’t realize that these owls breed in southern Arizona, but they do, likely in very small numbers and certainly in highly secluded locations. So I was stunned when I saw Loren’s image and realized what he’d photographed.
Loren told me that he’d seen two fledgling owls. He invited me to go with him to see if we could find the birds again and I eagerly accepted his invitation. The following morning we drove in his Jeep on an extremely rough road to a location deep in one of the mountain ranges near Tucson.
We came to a dry stream bed (wash) on a mountain slope. The wash was rimmed with dense trees, mostly cottonwoods and sycamores. We climbed down into the wash and hiked about 30 meters. And there they were, perching on an exposed limb.
These young owls are fledglings, perhaps just a few days out of their nest. Adult Long-eared Owls have long and thin feather tufts atop their heads (“plumicorns”). The fledglings lack these ornaments.
Long-eared Owls appear to be relatively substantial in size but, n fact, these owls are not robust. An adult Long-eared Owl weighs about nine ounces or about 250 grams, about 1/5th the body weight of a Great-Horned Owl.
These birds are primarily forest dwellers and their very secretive lifestyle makes them quite difficult to find. I very much doubt if anyone other than Loren and I observed this pair of young owls, given their remote location.
We had hoped to photograph an adult owl along with the youngsters but we blew that opportunity. Loren and I were busily photographing the kids when we caught motion just a few meters away. It was one of the adults who also was perching in plain view but who took off and flew before we could photograph it. I wasn’t all that disappointed, however, given this extremely rare opportunity to photograph these young birds.
Images made with a Canon R5, Canon EF 400mm f4 DO II lens+Canon EF 1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), M settings. First two images, ISO 4000, f8 @ 1/500, +1 2/3 stops exposure compensation. Third image, ISO 6400, f11 @ 1/400, +1 2/3 stops exposure compensation.