Burrowing Owl Returns

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Is this the same burrowing owl as before?

At the beginning of this year I wrote about a burrowing owl that lives across from the manure dump at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park (see Burrowing Owl Buddy). For several years now animal keepers have been watching this little owl watch us. On one occasion we even saw two owls. The owl is usually found standing tall just outside of its burrow. When we drive up next to it with our vehicles, it usually crouches down as if to hide. If we wait quietly, the owl gradually relaxes and stands tall again, making for some great bird-viewing for us.

We mammal keepers were asked by our burrowing owl researcher (see post Burrowing Owls: Closer than You Think) if we could start keeping a log of sightings, so I made up a binder in which we would note dates of sightings, weather, location, etc. A few weeks after my last blog we discovered that some domestic sheep living in the vicinity had chewed down the thick, natural vegetation on the owls’ hillside. The owl was not seen for many months. With its habitat greatly degraded by the sheep, we wondered if it would ever return. It saddened us to think that loss of habitat was happening right before our eyes!

Well, I’m happy to report that as of October 25, 2011, just in time for Halloween, a burrowing owl returned to this site. It is almost the same color as the dirt on the hillside. If it wasn’t for its piercing yellow eyes, we may not have noticed it. We wonder if it is the same individual that was here earlier this year, but we have no way of knowing. For the time being we are working on getting signs put up to prevent any future disturbance to the burrowing owl’s habitat on this hillside.

If you want to get a good look at some burrowing owls, visit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Our burrowing owl exhibit is in the area known as Condor Ridge. The pair we have living here has produced many owlets over the years. Their clutch size is usually two to three eggs, but one time there were seven owlets in a clutch from this pair! We do not yet know the gender of the owl across the way. We will watch eagerly to see if owlets make an appearance!

Gloria Kendall is a lead mammal keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.