Owls around Southern Arizona

by Dan Weisz

Web presentation by Douglas Everett @ Hummingbird Market

In our neighborhood in the Catalina Foothills, the most common owls are Western Screech Owls and Great Horned Owls.  The habitat is not good for any other of the owls who make southern Arizona home.  But there are other owls within a short drive.  Below are photos of some Burrowing Owls and some Barn Owls which I was lucky enough to see last week.

Burrowing Owls live in burrows in grasslands, deserts, and flat and open habitat.  They will take over a vacant burrow that was created by a prairie dog, ground squirrel, or other digging animal and may expand or dig out the burrow some.  In southern Arizona, they can also be found along irrigation ditches in agricultural areas where the concrete provides a nice roof to an underground burrow.  Here is the welcoming committee from an agricultural area north of Marana!

Burrowing owls are active during the day, making them easier to find.  They hunt close to the ground and can run well with those long legs.  Burrowing owls are also known for their entertaining facial expressions.  This one’s feet are pretty muddy after hunting in this wet field.   Perhaps that’s what he’s making a face about.

Back on the concrete irrigation ditch, the owl looks alert.  Its feet remain muddy.

Here is a different burrowing owl from the one above, found at another site.

If you are interested in helping out with Burrowing Owl rehab and recovery programs, Wild at Heart does ongoing work in southern Arizona and will be creating several large burrow compounds over the next few months.  There is more information here https://wildatheartraptors.org/recovery-programs/ and you can contact Steve Thomas at the link on that page to get involved.

I like the shadow of its eyebrow across this owl’s eye.   You can see the shadows of the short feathers that form its eyebrows.

During that day’s exploration, we came across an abandoned structure.  When you see this many owl pellets on the floor, that’s a hint to look up at the rafters.  Barn owls swallow their prey (rodents) whole and twice daily cough up pellets with the indigestible parts of their prey, mostly fur and bones.

Here are the two sleeping Barn owls that were perched directly above the pellets.  The one on the right is at an angle where we are looking right up its backside.  Basically, the two owls are side-by-side but facing opposite directions.  Barn owls have long wings that extend past their short tail.  Barn owls are about a foot long and weigh about a pound.

An owl’s feathers do not have crisp edges to them.  The are fringed on both sides which helps to break up the air turbulence as they fly, thus eliminating sounds.  Owls fly silently and are stealth hunters.