More Fun with Burrowing Owls and the Dangers of Barbed Wire

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Juvenile Burrowing Owl calling while in flightJuvenile Burrowing Owl calling while in flight – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 320, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

I spent yesterday morning photographing Burrowing Owls in northern Utah again and while most of it was fun there was something I found that broke my heart. If you don’t like graphic images please do not view the last image on this post.

The juvenile Burrowing Owls are fascinating little buggers and very hard for me to resist because they are often more expressive than the adults and can also seem more like little clowns of the desert.

The juvenile above was calling while in flight because an adult had flown in and landed on the burrow and I believe the young owl was calling for food.

Juvenile Burrowing Owl ready to lift offJuvenile Burrowing Owl ready to lift off – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 320, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

This juvenile had landed on the barbed wire in front of the fence and when I could tell it was getting ready to lift off I fired a burst of frames to capture the action.

Burrowing Owl juvenile diving towards preyBurrowing Owl juvenile diving towards prey – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1250, ISO 320, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

And the young owl dove towards the ground after prey. It did not appear to be successful but that area has a very high vole population and I am certain the young owl will be able to hone its hunting skills quite easily without going far from the burrow.

A juvenile Burrowing Owl diving towards the burrowA juvenile Burrowing Owl diving towards the burrow – Nikon D810, f7.1, 1/1600, ISO 320, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

This image just makes me chuckle because of the diving pose and serious look of concentration the young owl seem to have. I like that I caught this frame while the foot of the owl is still on the fence post.

Adult female Burrowing Owl casting a pellet with a juvenile perched belowAdult female Burrowing Owl casting a pellet with a juvenile perched below – Nikon D810, f9, 1/1000, ISO 320, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

For a bit the adult female perched on the metal fence post over a juvenile owl that was perched below. I was able to rotate my camera and fit both of them in the frame and then noticed the female was about to expel a pellet and caught the pellet mid air. Later frames show the juvenile watching the pellet as it fell to the ground.

Male Burrowing Owl (L) - Female Burrowing Owl (R)Male Burrowing Owl (L) – Female Burrowing Owl (R)

I’ve joined two separate frames together to show the differences between adults in the summer. When the owls first return from their breeding grounds it is a challenge to sex them because they are the same size but later in the summer the male has a more bleached out look and the female is darker which might occur because she spends more time in the darkness of the burrow and he spends more time in direct sunlight. Both of the images here were taken fairly early in the morning and just a few frames apart.

A dead juvenile Burrowing Owl hung up on barbed wireA dead juvenile Burrowing Owl hung up on barbed wire – Nikon D810, f9, 1/1000, ISO 320, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

After leaving the burrow and exploring other areas of northern Utah I saw this very sad sight of what appears to be a dead juvenile Burrowing Owl hung up on a section of a barbed wire fence. It was heart breaking to see. The fence was on the property of the Golden Spike National Monument so after I got home I called them and told them where the owl was and the person I spoke to said they would dispatch someone to retrieve the owl’s body.

I also spoke to them about putting flags, tags or even strips of tape to help the owls see the fence line. Last evening it occurred to me that the flags or tags would be an excellent action to take because that same area has Greater Sage-Grouse, Chukars, Gray Partridges and possibly Sharp-tailed Grouse whose lives could also be saved by the flags on the fences. I’m not sure how to go about it but I’d like to work on getting this done to protect the birds.

Still, I can’t look at this image without feeling sadness for the loss of this owl’s life.

Life is still good.

Mia

11 Comments

  1. Mia McPherson June 26, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Patty, fences are a necessary evil to protect the land from the cattle. I don’t think I will see the end of cattle grazing in the Centennial Valley or locations like at in my lifetime or even the next generation.

  2. Patty Chadwick June 26, 2015 at 8:55 am

    That should have read that cattle take up (and foul) a tremendous amount of land “AND WATER”…jump on me if you want, but these are the facts, and you can’t refute them by slamming me just because you don’t like what I’m saying….so save your breath…and THINK!!!

  3. Patty Chadwick June 26, 2015 at 8:49 am

    I’m not convinced that cattle are a “necessary evil”…they are often “fattened” , contained, shipped and slaughtered in incredibly inhumanr conditions, take up (and foul) a tremendous amount of land, private AND PUBLIC, that might otherwise be used to produce nutritious food, and contribute heavily to obesity and coronary heart disease…am I a vegetarian, no…I’m a hypocrite that now sees the stupidity of my ways and the ways of others…

  4. Jane Chesebrough June 26, 2015 at 1:07 am

    The last photo saddens me, hope they can work out a solution.

  5. Elephant's Child June 25, 2015 at 3:26 pm

    Incredible beauty and charm.
    And equally incredible sadness.
    I hope that wire can be tagged. With all of my heart.

  6. Bob June 25, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    Mia, the Sage Grouse Initiative has been pretty successful at getting volunteers, often young people in classes or clubs, to go out and flag wire. You might try contacting them and see if anyone is actively pursuing that in your area.

    Keep those images coming. 🙂

  7. Delores Freestone June 25, 2015 at 11:30 am

    When I was a youth I did 6 weeks of Youth Conservation Corp at Flaming Gorge. One of the things we did was wire small branches across the top of barbed wire so that when deer jumped over, it wouldn’t hurt them. Maybe this can be done too so the owls can see it better than just the wire. Fences are a necessary evil because without them cattle would roam everywhere destroying more than they are alloted now. my two cents….

    • Mia McPherson June 25, 2015 at 11:36 am

      I agree Delores, fences are a necessary evil. Earlier this month I was heading west in the Centennial Valley while a herd of cattle with probably 3000 to 4000 head were being moved east, if it weren’t for the fences on both sides of the road there would have been severe damage to the fields north and south. At one point the cattle were so thick they reminded me of sardines in a can.

      I know the flags work with sage grouse and I think they can with these young owls too who are just learning to hunt on their own.

  8. Patty Chadwick June 25, 2015 at 8:41 am

    Anyone who leaves that crap lying around, discarded, should be stripped naked,wrapped in the GD stuff and rolled down the biggest mountain around!!!

  9. Patty Chadwick June 25, 2015 at 8:15 am

    HORRIBLE! HORRIBLE! HORRIBLE! How I hate the goddamned stuff!!! Ranchers and farmers should AT LEAST flag the effing stuff…maybe they could get help from Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Environmental groups and other volonteers….Doubt if it would help owls much, though….wish the damn stuff could be outlawed and ordered destroyed! sometimes I really hate humans!!!

  10. Dave Sparks June 25, 2015 at 7:36 am

    I’ve enjoyed, very much, your recent images of Burrowing Owls. The technically excellent images show many interesting behaviors and characteristics of the birds.

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