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A lesson in love and marriage from eastern Idaho’s owl population

Living the Wild Life

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Sometimes fellas bite off more than they should and that may be the case for a male burrowing owl near Sage Junction this spring.

Two weeks ago while watching four pairs of these little entertainers, I watched three pairs and one single owl on the lips of their nesting burrows when one of the males flew to the single and had an intimate encounter with her. After the two sunbathed for a while, the male flew back to its original hole where he provided the necessary fertility to that female.

With both females down in their nests, the male went hunting, coming back about an hour later with half of a rodent in his beak and deposited by one of the burrows. Then he retired to his bachelor pad about halfway between the two females.

A short time later, the female that did not get its meal from her lover, came out of the burrow madder than a wet hen. Chirping, stomping her feet, flapping her wings and carrying on like an angry woman, clearly wanting some attention. The male quickly flew to her, but she gave him a cold shoulder while she kept vocally chastising him. Both he and I got her message loud and clear.

“I am darn hungry – where is my food, you lazy bum?”

“I brought it to you and put it in the burrow!”

“No way. You sure you didn’t take it to your girlfriend over behind the bush?”

“I don’t have a girl!”

“The crap you don’t, GET ME MY FOOD and NOW! Do you know how hard it is to lay nine eggs?”

Both of them gave me a dirty look, then the male quickly flew to the other burrow, retrieved the meat, and brought it to her. She gulped it down in one swallow, deposited some fertilizer on the lip of the burrow before chastising him again.

“You better get a second job in a hurry as you may soon have two women and 14 children to feed; or maybe you can talk the ground squirrels into hurrying to have their kids so we can eat them!”

Male Burrowing owls usually only mate with one female, but occasionally they will have up to three partners and nests. He does not incubate or brood the owlets, but it is his responsibility to feed the female until the babies are at least a week old which requires him to deliver all the food needed for about five weeks. That is probably why this legislature (group) of owls have nests in the middle of a ground squirrel colony.

Burrows are not only nesting areas, but they may also have a storeroom where up to 100 rodents have been found to be stored there. The insides of the burrows are also coated with shredded animal dung and it is believed that the owls do this to attract insects for the female and owlets to feed on.

Females can lay as many as 12 eggs, but the average is about seven while hatching four to seven owlets. I have seen one nest with nine and one with eight, but most of the females around eastern Idaho have about four to six. Many of the young are preyed on by coyotes, badgers, ravens and hawks with only two to five surviving to adulthood.

Want to have some fun and see things you never dreamed of? watch three or four Burrowing owl nests. It can be very exciting. From Sage Junction to Dubois and west to Howe, I have found 19 Burrowing owls and I suspect there is another polygamist male out there. But to make sure, I will have to spend more time it that area.

I can hardly wait the five to six weeks before the owlets come out of the burrows to put on a kid show which is usually quite juvenile.