A Morning Spent at a Burrowing Owl Burrow

/, Box Elder County, Burrowing Owls, Northern Harriers, Utah/A Morning Spent at a Burrowing Owl Burrow

Juvenile Burrowing Owls in soft morning lightJuvenile Burrowing Owls in soft morning light – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 640, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Last week I posted an image of Burrowing Owl siblings that I found in northern Utah and today I am posting images of that burrow after spending yesterday morning being delighted by them once more. This time I had much better light because I was there with them not long after the sun came up instead of much later in the morning.

Before I begin I want to state that I am always in a vehicle when photographing these owls, I never get out and I stay a respectful distance from the burrow. There is never a time when a photo is more important than the safety and well being of my subjects and if I felt my presence was disturbing the owls and their normal behavior I would simply leave.  I will always put the welfare of birds or animals above the desire to get a photograph.

Juvenile Burrowing Owl balancing actJuvenile Burrowing Owl balancing act – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

As far as I can tell there are at least 6 juvenile Burrowing Owls at the burrow because at one point I could visibly see six of them at once. These juvenile owls are about the size of an American Robin and are only a few weeks old, their chests will become more spotted as they age but for now their chests are a plain buffy color without markings.

A pair of juvenile Burrowing Owls on an old fenceA pair of juvenile Burrowing Owls on an old fence – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Burrowing Owls are often most active at dawn and dusk and will hunt during the day and night. These young Burrowing Owls are learning to hunt for themselves near the burrow now for insects and any small mammals nearby.

A juvenile Burrowing Owl on a barbed wire fenceA juvenile Burrowing Owl on a barbed wire fence – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

They are also perfecting their balancing, landing and flight skills. This burrow has an old barbed wire fence close to it and even though the fence posts seem to be their preferred perches they do often perch on the rusty old barbed wire too.

Burrowing Owl juvenile fluttering its wingsBurrowing Owl juvenile fluttering its wings – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/800, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

The barbed wire isn’t as easy to balance on so the owlets spend a bit of time getting or regaining their balance while on it.

A Burrowing Owl juvenile stretching its wing on an old fenceA Burrowing Owl juvenile stretching its wing on an old fence – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 400, -0.3 EV, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

The juveniles spend a lot of time preening, stretching and looking around sometimes twisting their heads nearly upside down.

Adult Burrowing Owl in flightAdult Burrowing Owl in flight – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

The adults are usually nearby watching over their young, protecting them from predators if they come in too close as this adult was doing when…

Northern Harrier male flying over a Burrowing Owl burrowNorthern Harrier male flying over a Burrowing Owl burrow – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1000, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

This male Northern Harrier flew in and past the burrow. The adult owl stood on the burrow near its young until it felt the danger was past. (Blurry image because I wasn’t expecting the harrier and couldn’t lock my focus on its face)

Juvenile Burrowing Owl lifting off from a barbed wire fenceJuvenile Burrowing Owl lifting off from a barbed wire fence – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/2000, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Once the danger was gone life went back to normal at the burrow and the young owls sat warming in the sun at the burrow opening or flew up to the fence or fence posts.

Juvenile Burrowing Owl about to land on a barbed wire fenceJuvenile Burrowing Owl about to land on a barbed wire fence – Nikon D810, f8, 1/1600, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Watching them land on the barbed wire fence was interesting and I could see the look of concentration on their faces, especially immediately before their feet touched the wires.

A juvenile Burrowing Owl immediately after landingA juvenile Burrowing Owl immediately after landing – Nikon D810, f8, 1/1600, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Then when they struggled a bit to gain or regain their balance. There was a breeze and I suspect that made a smooth landing even more challenging.

A juvenile Burrowing Owl flying towards the burrowA juvenile Burrowing Owl flying towards the burrow – Nikon D810, f8, 1/1600, ISO 400, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I hope that all of these Burrowing Owl juveniles do well and survive to reach adulthood. They are amazing residents of Utah’s deserts but their populations are on the decline.

Life is good. Life is even better with Burrowing Owls in my life.

Mia

Please don’t ask for the location of this burrow, I don’t divulge nest locations, especially owl or raptor nests, unless they are well known which this burrow isn’t. I also wouldn’t announce a nest location out loud because there are unfortunately unethical people who might harass the birds by getting too close too often.  I have personally seen that behavior too often.

For facts on Western Burrowing Owls take a look at these sites:

Burrowing Owl Conservation Network

Center for Biological Diversity

A great place to read about good field ethics is Principles of Birding Ethics published by the American Birding Association.

15 Comments

  1. wendy chapman June 29, 2015 at 9:03 am

    Mia, Thank you for replying. We can’t never over estimate the impact we have over the lives of others human and animals. You story is a good reminder to not allow selfish goals be more important than the respect for others.

  2. Christine June 24, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Beautiful photos Mia. So glad you don’t reveal nesting locations.

    I was a volunteer coordinator for the Burrowing Owl Project in Saskatchewan, Canada a few years back. One farmer I know, deliberately destroyed a stand of trees around a watering hole where great horned owls had nested for years – JUST – so no-one could tell him what he could and could not do on HIS land!!!

    What made me even more angry was the fact that I had painted a great horned owl commission for him as a birthday present – based on those very owls.

    Made me realise though how important it is not to reveal nesting sites are located. Thanks for all you do…

  3. Nancy Collins June 24, 2015 at 5:00 am

    You have captured beauty and determination Mia! Lovely!

  4. wendy chapman June 24, 2015 at 4:28 am

    Very enjoyable series Mia. I am wondering – This season are you following the Burrowing Owls whose nest site was disturbed? I am interested to know if their post trauma is continuing or if they are becoming more confident again. Thanks.

    • Mia McPherson June 24, 2015 at 5:27 am

      Wendy, in answer to your question I have not seen burrowing owls at that burrow ever again, sadly I don’t think I ever will. Thank you

  5. Utahbooklover June 23, 2015 at 4:06 pm

    A wonderful post Mia. I also want to thank you for your time and your dedication!

  6. Elephant's Child June 23, 2015 at 2:32 pm

    Ooooooh.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  7. Mary McAvoy June 23, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Wonderful collection of photos and narrative. Thanks Mia.

  8. Deborah Flowers June 23, 2015 at 9:36 am

    I love this wonderful series Mia. The owls are so cute and inquisitive. I love that third photo wit the owl staring at the wire twisted around the wire.
    Just fantastic! Thanks for sharing.

  9. Patty Chadwick June 23, 2015 at 8:26 am

    MIA!!! What a GREAT series of one of the funniest animals alive! I LOVE it!!! They are all such wonderful shots! I laugh out loud eveytime I look them, especially the first and sixth….they are so darned funny….THANKS!!!

  10. Neil Rossmiller June 23, 2015 at 7:51 am

    Great find, Mia.
    I hope you and Ron have them to yourselves for the duration. I know that when I made the Long-eareds known, I was inundated with request to come and view them. Some even got a little testy with me when I said “NO!”. For some reason it is the “Feather in the Cap” mentality of some birders that disturbs me and the birds the most. I was invited to an evening owl excursion recently and I asked if there would be any flash photography taking place and was told “absolutely not” but I declined anyway and saw the flashed owls posted the next day on Utah Birders site. I probably would have been confrontational and ruined my evening had I been there.
    Thanks for your unwavering ethics. It makes your site a delight to view on a daily basis knowing who and what is the priority.
    Life is Good

  11. Len Boeder June 23, 2015 at 7:41 am

    Good Morning Mia, Wonderful photos. I live in Arizona part of the year and am able to see Burrowing Owls often. The photos are one of your best
    Len

  12. Eileen June 23, 2015 at 6:53 am

    I just love these cute owls. Awesome post and photos!

  13. Lois Bryan June 23, 2015 at 6:45 am

    How wonderful for all of US … for a couple of reasons … we get to enjoy the antics and adorablenesssss of these guys through your lens and your expertise … and how wonderful, also, that the images themselves have been captured by a professional who is so wonderfully ethical. Thank you!!!!! You (and your feathered buddies) have certainly made my morning!!!!!!!

  14. Sarah Mayhew June 23, 2015 at 6:40 am

    Wonderful series! The Borrowing Owls are disappearing in Ca. I am finding fewer and fewer of them each year. 🙁

Comments are closed.