Idaho Falls
clear sky
humidity: 22%
wind: 3mph N
H 96 • L 94

The owlets were like kids on a large playground as they learned to hunt and fly

Living the Wild Life

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Just as the sun came up last Tuesday, seven owlets emerged from a burrow and began stretching their wings near Hamer. Quickly, two of them flew off to join two other owlets that had emerged from another burrow about 30 feet away. There were four adults standing guard — two of them at a distant burrow with two others perched on sagebrush, watching the owlets as they chased insects.

I had observed them from about 200 yards away and decided to inch closer to get some pictures. But when I got closer, the owlets disappeared one by one down the burrows. The adults really did not do much, except send out a warning notice. I decided to play a waiting game to see how long it took for the owlets to reemerge.

They almost won the game as I decided to give them 30 minutes, but they must have had a text system going on. I waited 15 more minutes before I finally saw the top of a head peeking over the burrow edge. Five minutes later, all nine of them were watching me. A Red-tailed hawk flew by and all, including the adults, dove back down the burrows. Within five minutes, most were back out.

The adults did not seem to be in a hurry to start hunting food for the youngsters but allowed them to start chasing large insects and creepy-crawly bugs. One caught a grasshopper and swallowed it immediately, while another caught a soft-bodied bug and brought it back to show it off before it became a snack.

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A young owl capturing a juicy bug. | Bill Schiess,

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An owlet stretching its preflight wing. | Bill Schiess,

Most of the owlets spent time stretching out their wings and then flying from burrow to burrow, greeting those already there, or exploring other holes in the ground. They were a curious bunch of kids on a large playground.

After getting some pictures, I decided to take a drive down the Old Butte Highway to Dubois; take ID Highway 22 to where it meets ID Highway 28 and then through Monteview to Mud Lake. That slow drive allowed me to observe seven different active Burrowing owl nests. I did not stop long at each nest, but if I am bored on a cool day in the next month, I may work at getting pictures of them.

By the end of August, the youngsters will gain a lot of knowledge before heading south for the winter. They do not winter here. They are truly “snowbirds” that follow the warm weather. They will develop mature flight talent that will enable them to fend for themselves.

If you know where a nest of them is and want some wholesome entertainment, spend an hour or two watching the nest. They will probably put on a show for you. If you are looking for them, take the mentioned loop, invite a spotter for the ride and drive moderately slow and you should find some. Watch for adults sitting on sagebrush or fence posts or even a cluster of youngsters on the ground. You should be able to find some. There are also burrowing owls located west of Blackfoot and Idaho Falls.

Be careful if you travel on the side roads as the grass and other vegetation is very dry and your car may start a wildfire. Enjoy the great outdoors safely and have a blessed day.

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Two owlets clowning around. | Bill Schiess,

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An owlet flying off to visit a friend. | Bill Schiess,