Tuesday, July 9, 2013

More Mesa Creatures: Burrowing Owls and a Hoot

Coming from back East I knew about deer mice moving into bluebird houses but I was not prepared for the feathered squatters I have recently met out here on the mesa.  

On one of my regular mesa walks with Reena on this barren land, what  I thought was a small hawk- like creature began dive bombing us.  It was the kind of behavior you would expect from a bird trying to keep you away from it's nest and eggs or young.

 But looking around, where would one build a nest here?

 It took some more dive bombing and another walk or two for me to realize that indeed this feathered creature was protecting it's eggs or young but the nest was not in a tree but underground.  And when I got a good look at our attacker I realized it was an owl...small and cute it wore speckled camo for the terrain and tried to look mean and dangerous.  Every time we got close he or she would flap or hop a few feet away, drawing us away from one of the many prairie dog holes.

 A quick check on the Internet proved that my new find on the mesa was indeed a burrowing owl but would  be more aptly named a squatter owl.  These small birds don't actually dig a home but instead move into holes already prepared by other critters, usually mammals like these prairie dogs that scurry across the mesa and feed in our gardens. They tunnel right under the lettuce, in fact.

And then the lights went on and I remembered a favorite YA read.   Hoot the Newberry honor books by Carl Hiaasen is a story about a young teen who tries to save a colony of burrowing owls from a construction project.  In fact these birds are becoming endangered and often driven from their homes by the expansion of human interests. 

On one of my most recent hikes I suspected that there might be hatchlings about when two owls began squawking and diving as Reena and I approached.  Still, imagine my surprise  when I almost stepped on a  white fluff ball in the tumble weed.  In my frantic attempt to keep Reena from making a mouth full of the young owl, I missed the photo.  But I have that lovely moment as memory and I still return daily to the noisy dismay of the adult birds, in hopes of spotting another young owl before they grow and leave the prairie dog burrows.

And like any curious writer I am left with a slew of questions about owls and prairie dogs living together.  I am certain there is room for another book that features the burrowing owl.

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