Nothing Like Young Burrowing Owls

Having a feeling that we might not be living full time in Florida next year, I made sure that I had “quality time” with my burrowing friends … the owls.  Each year, the burrows and owls are often different and this year, nothing could have been more true.  Like all wildlife, some owls are more “social” and required more personal space than others.  In Florida, they are protected and the state mandates a safe viewing distance … that being said, the best rule of thumb after that is careful observation of the owl and watching for signs of distress or changes in behavior.

Other differences easily noted are the varied eye colors.  Usually I see the normal yellow and some with darker brownish eyes, but this year it seemed that there were all the colors in between as well.  This adult had those greenish brown eyes and his mate had yellow eyes.DSC_0120This little owlet was one of their babies (of 2) and as you can clearly see, it possessed those traditional yellow eyes, as did its sibling.  These owls run a tidy ship and are frequently clearing out the opening to the burrow … sending lots of sand into the face and eyes of an onlooker.DSC_0147Even with just 2 babies, one is almost always clearly braver, or more inquisitive, than the other.  Before long, you know exactly which one you’re dealing with.DSC_0253Owls are predators and possess sharp pointed beaks and claws, along with feet that are quite strong.  Some are better hunters than others and it isn’t long before the little ones try to join in one the fun.DSC_0301The first feathers of the young owlets begin to be overtaken by more mature ones.DSC_0413While the feathers change, those big bright eyes never do.  🙂  Wonder what it’s so intent on spying in the air?  Let’s see….DSC_0454So it’s a hawk flying overhead and I as well get nervous.  Though I’ve seen it (and hope that I never will), they have been known to swoop on it and grab young birds, including these owlets.  Usually the parents are quite aware and send an instantaneous alert for everyone to go into the burrow.DSC_2254Owls can be fascinating to observe and I’ve spent many mornings or afternoons (or both) with them.  I just love it when the ruffle up their feathers … usually preceded or proceeded by a bow and a poop.DSC_0781By far, a favorite time of mine is when the little ones first discover their feet and claws.  You can literally see their wheels turning as they investigate them … they pick them up, open them, close them, sometimes even turn them upside down and eventually put them down again.  Often, they do it repeatedly.  Reminds me of our own young when they discover their toes.  🙂DSC_0472Feeding ones mate and the hungry family is a never-ending task.  Crickets or beetles are often consumed.DSC_1071Sometimes frogs are on the daily assortment and this one was obviously caught earlier and cached for the right moment.DSC_0854Lizards aren’t safe from them either.  Often the male will taken them into the burrow for its mate, even if there are no babies apparent yet.  Young ones don’t emerge from the burrow for at least 10 days, so it might be that she’s attending to them … or the eggs.DSC_1107Super special is when they’re both up and they transfer the delicacy from one to the other.  It reminds me of a Lady and the Tramp moment … only with a frog instead of a strand of spaghetti.  🙂DSC_2506I think that owls get bored easily … for sometimes they just declare “war” on anything they can get their claws on.DSC_0621At this particular site, there are others present, like these resident monk parakeets.  They’re quite beautiful and noisy when they fly by.  This one was busy grabbing twigs to reinforce or build its nest.DSC_2907Sometimes people want to know which are the babies versus the adults.  Of course, when they’re both out, it’s generally easy to ID them by size.  However, there’s another dead giveaway … well except for those “hair plug” head feathers.  If you notice the adult (in the back) had a pattern to its feathers throughout its belly, while the baby doesn’t have the striations yet.  I call this the Kahlua look (OK, maybe that’s too much info … LOL).DSC_1301These young owlets are nothing if not curious … and they display all sorts of head angles when they’re trying to figure something out.DSC_3132Of course, the family unit shot is highly desired, but just like our own group shots, it’s difficult to get them all cooperate at the same time … let alone smile.  🙂DSC_1348When the kids are safe in the burrow, the parents take a few moments for themselves with some mutual grooming and “canoodling”  (OK, so I guess that’s a made up word).DSC_2673Not sure what was going on here, but this male must have been in trouble and offering some sort of peace offering to its mate.  “OK, will you forgive me if I share this mouse with you?”DSC_3858“If not, I’ll just eat it myself”.DSC_3979From an early age the owlets learn to recognize threats from above.DSC_0214This time, a red-tailed hawk.  DSC_3370No worry though from this parent … no alarm call for cover … just a stare down.  I wonder why?DSC_1266Owls have much better eyesight than humans and upon careful inspection in the viewfinder, I see why.  See, this red-tailed hawk already has snatched a poor unfortunate baby bird for its dinner.  (OK, I secretly hate this side of nature, but hawks have to eat too.)DSC_3370-2So the socializing above the burrow continues.  Dad soon takes flight not far from where I was photographing and I wondered why.DSC_3243I noticed that before long it flew, with great difficulty, back to the burrow.  Then I saw it … it had a bird of its own.  To this day, I’ve never seen one with a bird before.   I guess owls have to eat too. (no, not again) DSC_3566So my next favorite time with these young owlets is when they learn to use their wings to make short flights around the burrow.  This one was quite happy and worked hard to impress its sibling and dad.DSC_3686-Edit“Look what I can do!”DSC_3685-EditDSC_3687-EditDSC_3692Meanwhile at another burrow, the youngs ones were just beginning to emerge.  This time, both parents were yellow-eyed and the babies ran the gambit of eye color.  There was some discrepancy about this burrow too, as some say the pair might have changed after the new ones were hatched.DSC_2602DSC_4079So, that’s this installment of the burrowing owls of south Florida for 2017.  Lots more images to share, so stay tuned.  I mean, how could you not with these eyes?  🙂DSC_2756Next up:  A return to the wetlands

© 2017  Debbie Tubridy

http://www.tnwaphotography.com

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Revisiting Friends … Burrowing Owls, that is

The burrowing owl is protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Treaty Act and as a State Species of Special Concern by Florida’s Endangered & Threatened Species Rule.  They are “highly vulnerable” to becoming a threatened species by loss of habitat and thus in Florida, it’s illegal to harass or harm them, their nests, or their eggs.  I’ve been told that over the past few years, the public, including some photographers, reportedly have taken perhaps a bit too much liberty with them, which resulted in these signs being displayed at most of the burrows, which happen to be in heavily used county parks.  While I applaud the attempt to educate those who might not know better, I think that these signs (which are quite small) might actually encourage people to get close … in order to read these tiny notices. In addition, they tend to flap around in the wind, which also disturbs the owls.   Is it just me or what?DSC_5728So that being said … let’s all enjoy them from afar and know that when an owl bobs its head up and down at you or lets out an alert call when you’re present, you’re obviously disturbing them and need to give them their space.  Again, whether observing or photographing the owls, the goal should be to get them acting naturally.  Enough said.  🙂

Speaking of acting naturally, please note that this owl hasn’t been fed by humans, but rather has retrieved its prey from its hunting (usually at night or before dawn or after dusk) earlier.  They kill and cache it, like other predators do, and as you can see, this frog is covered in sand._DSC9194This owl is quite the hunter too.  It tries to offer the frog to its mate, who shows no sign of interest in taking it._DSC9201So the owl begins to consume it himself._DSC9172_DSC9192Once partially torn into and consumed, the owl tries again to offer it to its mate, but again she’s not interested._DSC9198What’s an owl to do?_DSC9212Is she just playing hard to get?_DSC9205Well, let’s try a lizard … maybe that will do it.  But no, she didn’t want that either!_DSC9218Eventually, after several visits to the burrow, this years baby owls start to appear.  Usually when I first see them, they still are in that “hair plug” stage, but these guys seem to be a few weeks out of that stage.DSC_5699Even at a young age, they learn to watch the skies overhead.DSC_5725At first, I just saw one young owl, which made me flash back to that hawk Tom & I had seen a few weeks ago.  But then a second appeared.DSC_5730There’s always one that’s more curious and brave than the other.  LOLDSC_5734Eventually, they both begin to feel comfortable with my presence and the animation begins.  🙂DSC_5769I just adore the young owlets and their fluffy belly feathers and those downy looking “petticoats” are priceless.DSC_5821The sun highlights their eyes, which are so big and focused on their surroundings.  DSC_5944DSC_6012At one point, 3 owlets appeared, which makes it more fun due to the interaction between them.  This owlet decided to strike a submissive pose when playing with the others.  So darned cute!DSC_6134More overhead scanning … a never-ending activity … for those owls and owlets that want to increase their odds of survival.DSC_6154More playing … a favorite part of their day I’m sure … as well as for the observers.DSC_6316Well, go to go today, but not before I say goodbye to these 3 cuties.  As you can tell, they all have their personalities, appearances, and unique traits.  However, they are all precious.  I wish them well.  As Arnold says … “I’ll be back”.  DSC_5973

Next up:  Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge

© 2016  TNWA Photography

http://www.tnwaphotography.com