Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Burrowing Owl

I have blogged that prairie dogs are despised by many ranchers—a hatred that is bad news for Burrowing Owls, who often live in prairie dog burrows. The owls are now listed as Threatened or Endangered in Canada. In Mexico this owl is listed as requiring Special Protection. By not designating the Burrowing Owl as Threatened or Endangered, the Federal Governement in the United States bowed to pressure from ranching interests who fear the rise of prairie dogs if Burrowing Owls are protected. Nevertheless, several states protect Burrowing Owls (Minnesota, Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming). Burrowing Owls are killed by ranchers shooting at prairie dogs and ranchers often destroy whole prairie dog colonies. Intensive cultivation of grasslands and the ever-encroaching specter of urban development also destroy habitat. Pesticides used against prairie dogs are also toxic to the owls.

For all these reasons, the Burrowing Owl we saw must be one of the highlights of John Holden’s and my trip to western South Dakota. The absolute best birds, however, were two Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, a bird not often reported from the state. Unfortunately our flycatchers were about a half-mile distant. Serrendipitously I took a photo anyway, and if you are interested in one of the world’s worst photos of a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher, check it out on my eBird list.

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