Short-eared Owl Throwing Up A Pellet

Yesterday morning in northern Utah this Short-eared Owl had a surprise waiting for me and it came at an unexpected moment.

 

short-eared owl 2637 ron dudley

1/2000, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Here the owl is landing on a fence post with a vole it had just captured.

 

 

short-eared owl 2674 ron dudley

1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Almost immediately after landing the bird began to retch. Usually when I photograph birds throwing pellets it’s when they’ve been perched and resting for a while and this one had freshly caught prey that was still alive to deal with so I certainly didn’t expect to see pre pellet-casting behavior before the owl had dispatched the vole. Those little guys can, and often do, bite. Rodent teeth are definitely to be avoided if at all possible.

 

 

short-eared owl 2678 ron dudley

1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

But sure enough, out came a pellet. Based on its trajectory I believe it hit the edge of the post…

 

 

short-eared owl 2679 ron dudley

1/1600, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

before falling to the ground.

Some factoids about pellet casting in Short-eared Owls:

  • pellets consist of indigestible hair, bones and teeth
  • on average they throw one pellet per meal
  • interval between pellets is related to the weight of the meal but averaged 8.5 hours after eating meals averaging 35 grams

 

So I was very lucky to capture this behavior if it only occurs every 8.5 hours.

I’ve photographed quite a few individual birds of a variety of species casting pellets but ironically I believe this is only the second time I’ve ever captured an owl doing so. Ironic because owls are the group of birds that is best known for casting them.

Ron

 

 

Northern Harriers Transferring Food In Mid-air

I’ve been trying to photograph this behavior for years.

Only the female Northern Harrier incubates eggs. The male provides all of her food during that time and virtually all of it for her and the chicks until the youngsters are about two weeks old. Instead of bringing it to her at the nest the food is often transferred from male to female in the air. The male flies overhead with the food item and then the female flies up to meet him where the transfer occurs.

I was able to photograph that behavior yesterday morning on Antelope Island. The birds were far away so I had to crop the images drastically and the image quality is mediocre at best but the behavior is clearly seen so I thought some might enjoy seeing the images.

 

northern harrier 1863 rorn dudley

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Here the darker female at bottom has left the nest and is approaching the food-bearing male. The food item, in the right foot of the male, appears to be an already half-eaten vole so it’s quite small.

 

 

northern harrier 1866 ron dudley

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

As they approached each other the male prepared to drop the vole.

 

 

northern harrier 1867 ron dudley

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

Drop made. Now it’s the responsibility of the female to catch it.

 

 

northern harrier 1868 ron dudley

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in 

She maneuvered to approach it…

 

 

northern harrier 1869 ron dudley

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

reached out with her right foot… 

This image is softer than the rest and I’m not sure why.

 

 

northern harrier 1870 ron dudley

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

and successfully snagged it. 

 

 

northern harrier 1874 ron dudley

1/2500, f/6.3, ISO 800, Canon 7D Mark II, Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM + 1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in 

Then the male presumably went back to more hunting and the female returned to the nest.

I’ve been trying to photograph this food exchange for almost 9 years now and I’ve come quite close to success a few times but something has always gone wrong. This time most things came together except for one – distance from subjects. One day I hope to get quality photographs of the behavior from a closer distance but for now this series will have to do.

Ron