The one thing sorely missing from my spring and summer photography has been Burrowing Owls. Denver International Airport and the U.S. Department of Agriculture were sadly all too successful in wiping out their habitat in my area in the late winter.
Threatened species? Apparently government agencies don’t care.
Anyway, I have seen a few that managed to find homes in private fields that the government couldn’t touch. My friend, Bill, clued me in on one spot and how best to access them which I did the other day.
They were pretty skittish as wheat had been harvested near them the week before and they likely didn’t care for the big combines that came rolling through. As a result, they weren’t willing to sit and pose for cute pictures like I normally hope to get but one did oblige with a flyover.
I struggled to get focused on it but did finally manage just as it went beside me. Not a great shot really but I am struck by how much similar it looks in flight to its big cousin, the Great Horned Owl.
A Burrowing Owl hides behind some weeds and grass. Sadly, thanks to the eradication efforts of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Denver International Airport-DIA, Burrowing Owls have become a scarce in the Denver area. Their decision to wipe out dozens of acres of Prairie Dog habitat have also wiped out this threatened species’ homes. Photo opportunities for them has plummeted as well. I did spot this one at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge recently although it refused to make itself fully visible.
This beautiful pair of small owls has staked out a nice home on some private property northeast of Denver, Colorado. Thankfully they should be safe as mating season begins and they hopefully raise a nice little family in the coming months. However, many others of this threatened species, won’t be given that same opportunity due to their choice of home location.
Denver International Airport owns a great deal of property in the area, much outside of the airport’s fences. Over the past month, a massive operation to wipe out Prairie Dog habitat and thus historical Burrowing Owl habitat and raptor feeding grounds, has been undertaken by the airport and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
One location that already had owls in it was poisoned and bulldozed, something that is entirely illegal. This is being done ostensibly to mitigate the hazards of a bird striking an airplane, something that is a very real danger.
However, DIA’s and the USDA’s actions appear to have gone wholly overboard. In fact, it may have the opposite effect as without raptors in the area, other birds like geese and ducks that are for more prevalent will come to the area knowing there are no predators. I searched the FAA’s bird strike database for DIA and found that raptors in fact account for a very small percentage of bird strikes at the facility.
It is rather disheartening to see such total disregard for wildlife, particularly when it involves a threatened species like the Burrowing Owl and protected species like the Bald Eagle.
They are back! The Burrowing Owls have started returning to the area northeast of Denver. Yesterday I spotted two pair at two different spots and I am sure more will be arriving soon.
Unfortunately I got there a bit late in the morning so the lighting was poor and they were a good ways away so the pics aren’t anything extraordinary. Nevertheless, this means more photo opportunities to come in the near future and I am very much looking forward to them.
With any luck we should be seeing these along the Colorado Front Range in the next couple of weeks or so. These little guys are probably by second favorite seasonal bird here – but not far behind my first. They are supremely entertaining to watch, especially the young ones when they emerge.
This wide-eyed lady was keeping watch over her brood last June, soon after they made their first public appearance.
I had heard rumors and even saw a few pictures over the last couple of months of a Burrowing Owl that apparently failed to head south for the season. While I drive by the spot regularly on my wildlife outings, I had yet to see it myself – until today.
A friend (thanks, Bill!) tipped me off that he had spotted it this morning so after work I gave it a shot and sure enough, the little guy was out and about. Thick cloud cover required high ISOs and thus grainy pictures but not too bad of a series. Taken in Adams County, Colorado.
Scroll down for the complete series of images.
A bit of a TBT to July 4th. Burrowing Owls come to the Colorado plains during the summer and are tons of fun to watch and photograph. Almost without fail, after emerging from their burrows, they stretch in every conceivable direction, clearly needing to limber up after being cooped up underground. This was the first of five juveniles to emerge from this burrow on this morning, striking a pose as it did. To the right you can see the head of one of its siblings as it climbed out as well.
This pair of Burrowing Owls? was clearly taking advantage of a warm spring day by partaking in some ‘recreation.’ I did find it amusing that the male appears to be kissing the female but she has a wholly disinterested look. Perhaps thinking, “Are you done yet?” 😉 The pair was successful in hatching a brood of five and they have all since headed south for warmer environs during the winter.
I was pleasantly surprised to see a few of my little friends still hanging around today. This was my first time checking since early last month. This particular Burrowing ?Owl? was happily perched on the fence and let me snap plenty of pictures of it. Taken north of Denver International Airport, Colorado.
Burrowing Owls are tremendous fun to observe and make great photo subjects. Their diminutive size makes them awfully cute and those bright yellow eyes really get your attention.
This female was perched on a mullein plant north of Denver International Airport and while I thought I was the one doing the watching, it is clear that she was playing the role of a keen observer of me as well.