Friday, June 18, 2010

Since when do birds live underground?

This spring I have had the pleasure of working in a building on the FAU (Florida Atlantic University) campus very close to a small population of burrowing owls. What?? Yes, I said BURROWING owls. I know...strange. Several years ago, while living in Tampa, I had seen a really great presentation at an Audobon Society meeting focused on burrowing owls, a Florida species of special concern. These birds look like very small (about 6 inch) owls with very long chicken legs attached to the bottom of their stumpy bodies. Why the funny looking legs? For burrowing of course. Burrowing owls will create burrows (or use old burrows from other animals) in dry, sandy open areas which are often highly developed areas such as golf courses, airports, and university campuses. They nest in their burrows and will often have 2 to 12 young. I was lucky enough to observe three breeding pairs of burrowing owls at the university. Each of these pairs had about 4-8 young!! I was surprised to see, however, that the young were often of different ages and sizes. It makes me wonder if they lay several clutches in the springtime.

When they are very very young, the baby burrowing owls look like tiny puff balls on a stick. Their legs are so long and gangly that their clumsiness is comical. Here are some photos I've taken of them over the spring. A lot of these photos are poor quality because I wanted to maintain a safe distance from the young.

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