Whenever I see a burrowing owl, I am reminded of nothing so much as a 19th century caricature of a doctor in frock coat, standing tall and bandy-legged. A being of consequence. And so these birds are, quite apart from their significance as fellow beings on this planet.
Burrowing owls are of great moment as markers of the state of our environment. They depend on open space for a livelihood, much as we depend on open space for the grace it brings to our lives. These are ground-based hunters, living in abandoned rodent burrows.
At your approach, the bird may crouch down into itself, appearing to withdraw into its burrow. Or, it may bob up and down, giving a short barking call. If alarmed, the owl may fly a short distance to another favored retreat. Streaky brown feathering specked with white and gray gives good camouflage.
Sadly, its habitat continues to be a diminishing one! We have paved over or poisoned much of the burrowing owl’s living space in California. The last nesting birds in the LA basin were extirpated when the college fields in which they lived were converted to a sports stadium. Clearly, an owl’s educational value is insignificant when compared to the revenue produced by big sports. Efforts to list these owls as threatened have been ongoing for years and, in the end, may be necessary if we are to preserve some of these wise old birds.
Photo: Jess Morton