The past few years I have missed seeing and photographing young Burrowing Owls on Antelope Island State Park for numerous reasons. During the breeding season of 2011 some
photographers people trampled over a burrow that had been productive for years that was close to the road and that burrow has not been active since.
These owls are so appealing, cute and funny that they can be “loved to death“. Care must be taken around their burrows as their burrows can extend way beyond the openings to the burrows and people walking on them can crush the burrows possibly trapping the owls inside.
Last year there was a banding program of the Burrowing Owls on Antelope Island to study their migration patterns, mortality and to help understand why these “Clowns of the Desert” are in decline throughout the western United States. I am completely for the research but even the disturbance caused by banding seemed to have an affect on the Burrowing Owls on Antelope Island last year.
It seemed that all of the owls from the burrows close to the roads on Antelope Island dispersed much sooner than they had in years past which limited the time I (and others) had to see and photograph them.
There are various reasons for the decline of Burrowing Owls in the western U.S. including habitat destruction which is no surprise since many of the species that are threatened or endangered throughout the U.S. are in decline because we are encroaching on and destroying their habitat. Range land being converted to irrigated farmland is another reason as is widespread elimination of prairie dogs and ground squirrels.
These beautiful owls do need our protection and what they don’t need is people tromping over their burrows, getting too close or bothering them for too long.
Here is a neat Burrowing Owl cam out of Florida to view.
For more information on the ethics of photographing nesting birds or chicks check out the Principles of Birding Ethics published by the American Birding Association.