Sunday, November 1, 2015

Burrowing Owl

On 6 July, during our scenic detour through South Dakota's Badlands National Park, we saw a lot of people and few birds or dragonflies. We did discover several Burrowing Owls in an extensive prairie dog colony. In my previous Burrowing Owl post, I mentioned that the Zuni called this owl “the priest of the prairie dog.”
The owls breed in underground burrows, sometimes digging their own, but often using burrows dug by ground squirrels, badgers, prairie dogs, or other mammals. Owls also use underground nest boxes or other human structures that allow easy access. Nests are often lined with animal dung that attracts the insects the owls eat. Decaying dung may warm the nesting chamber (Beauty of Birds).
We enjoyed watching the owls’ display flights. The owls flew up, hovered and dropped to the ground. Usually owl burrows are abandoned by their original owners. Occasionally, owls “evict” the original owners. We are not sure what is happening in the final photograph. This behavior was clearly aggressive between an owl and a prairie dog. Was the owl driving the mammal away from a burrow? Or was the owl defending a nesting hole? The owl, in any event, won the encounter.

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