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Monday, April 02, 2007

Howdy Owl

Turning back to the wee owl front, one great sign of spring in Colorado is the return of Burrowing Owls to their prairie dog town abodes. These are really user-friendly owls, hanging out in full daylight in the open environs of the colony (prairie dogs clear vegetation, both to eat and to keep their lines of sight open for predator detection.) Many publicly-accessible areas in the plains portions of the state offer the chance at these sharp-looking little guys (for example, see the Colorado County birding page for Burrowing Owls), but last weekend I had the opportunity to see some up close on a private ranch in east-central Colorado. One of the ranch roads (just a two-track through shortgrass-cholla prairie) went right through the p-dog town, with some burrows almost spilling onto the road. A pair of Burrowing Owls was set up nearby, allowing me to use my vehicle as a blind. It was really cool to hear the birds giving their little coo cooooo song and their chattering calls from that close (I suggest using the free Raven Viewer plug-in from Cornell to see the sonograms as you listen- really cool stuff so get it!) I was also psyched to finally clean up my photos of this species. (They can be really frustrating to digiscope even from reasonable range because the air over the colonies is often very distorted as sunlight warms the bare ground.)

In a couple of the pictures you can see how they "decorate" their home burrow with cow dung. Once thought to help camouflage their scent, new research suggests that they are aiming to attract and cultivate dung beetles, a major part of their diet, by garnishing their burrow this way.

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