A Talk on the Wild Side.
|To have a little wildlife fun during the Super Bowl, the Service and others tweet using the #Superb_Owl hashtag. This picture stirred up a Social Media storm. Photo Credit: Katie McVey/USFWS|
You might have seen this awesome photo that Katie McVey, a wildlife refuge specialist at Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah posted on Social Media during the Superb Owl, er Super Bowl. The photo was featured on Good Morning America, The Huffington Post and elsewhere.
We wanted to know a little more about the ridiculously cute burrowing owls she photographed, so we talked with Katie.
|Burrowing owls are species of concern to conservationists. Photo Credit: Katie McVey/USFWS|
It turns out the photos are a few years old from when Katie was doing graduate research at Boise State University with the Raptor Biology Program. She and other students monitored burrowing owls at the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area near Boise.
Burrowing owls are listed as endangered in Canada, and most U.S. states that have burrowing owls consider them as a species of concern because their numbers are shrinking. Loss or alteration of habitat is a key reason for their troubles. The changing habitat has left some burrowing owls without traditional nesting sites.
That’s actually why the baby owls at top are in a 5-gallon bucket.
The burrowing owl colony Katie worked with all lived in artificial burrows – 5-gallon buckets connected to the surface by plastic pipe.
When the researchers needed to band them or count them, Katie says, they blocked off the entrance to the nesting site and dug around the bucket, “Once you dug out the top of the bucket.” She adds, “you lifted the lid and pulled out the owls.” Researchers then placed them in another bucket and covered it with a cloth lid.
Burrowing owls are different from many owls people know. Aside from living in tunnels, when a burrowing owl feels threatened (like the owls pictured at top), they hiss. So while the owls look surprised, they are actually defending themselves.
The hissing sounds like a rattlesnake and deters some predators from looking in the burrow for a meal because who wants to deal with a nest full of rattlesnakes?
“The owls in the photo [at top] look like 30 day olds,” almost ready to fly away, and those colorful bands will enable researchers to ID the birds without putting them through the stress of recapture.
|Still eating. Photo Credit: Katie McVey/USFWS|
Finally, burrowing owls really are as cute as the photos make them seem, Katie says, “except when they don't finish a meal. This little guy has the tail of a kangaroo rat still sticking out of his mouth. Yum!”
-- Matt Trott, External Affairs