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The new crop of burrowing owls throughout eastern Idaho are fun to watch

Living the Wild Life

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Photos: Bill Schiess |

A year ago, during the last week of June badgers dug up and destroyed six burrowing owl nests, killing the owlets and either killing or displacing the adults. During the same time, construction around Sage Junction destroyed or caused the abandonment of three nests in that area. This spring those nine nests were replaced by only one pair as the population of burrowing owls in the area from Roberts to Dubois almost disappeared.

Last year in the area from Idaho Falls on the south, north to Dubois and from the Henrys Fork of the Snake River on the east to the Idaho National Laboratory on the west, I found 17 nests of these small owls. This summer I have only been able to locate four nests in that area.

The owlets of those four nests have all emerged from their cow dung-lined underground burrows and are quickly learning the skills for survival and migration. No longer do they have to eat only the food the adults bring them or to eat the beetles and flies attracted by their burrow lining as they are harvesting their own food. With the emergence of millions of grasshoppers, they have become the favorites of these active teenage birds and they can be very entertaining to watch as they gather their food.

One of the nests near Interstate 15 produced six young, with four of the six surviving to their fledging stage. It appears that each of the young has adopted a burrow of their own except for the runt of the flock, who has stayed with the hatching nest. Each of the other three will occasionally visit each other and their burrows.

Burrowing owls are known to be hoarders or preppers (if you prefer). They capture food items and store them in the burrow. These owlets are learning that skill as they capture insects and deposit them down their favored hole. Research of abandoned burrows has shown that as many as 200 food items have been stored for future needs.

The young are also learning to fly and this activity can be very entertaining to watch if you are into crash landings. When first trying to fly, they have not mastered their air-brakes and they take some tumbles as they master their wing control. But they are learning fast, and they have to, as it is only a month away when they will embark on their southern migration.

Around the end of August, most of the burrowing owls will migrate from Idaho to Mexico, Arizona, Southern Utah or New Mexico to spend the winter. In the meantime, they will be getting in shape and practicing their flying skills.

If you know where a family of these beautiful birds are and you want to be entertained, now is the time to visit them. Use your vehicle as a blind and usually they will allow you to park within 30 or 40 yards of them. They are fun to watch and enjoy as each has its own facial expressions and habits.

I am already looking forward to next spring when they return. Hopefully, more will show up in my watching area for more entertainment.