Juvenile Burrowing Owls – The Clowns Of The Bird World

With the New Year fast approaching I’m feeling more than a little nostalgic about Feathered Photography so today I present a blast from the past. I’ve now been blogging for more than seven years and this post was one of my earliest ventures into the blogosphere (#17 out of 2,118 total posts to date).

Some of these photos remain among my favorites of all time but my blogging “style” back then was decidedly primitive and unrefined so for this version I’ve cleaned up some of the most glaring awkwardness, edited the text and fixed the original distracting formatting. Veteran blog followers will have seen some of these images before. 


Of the many bird species I’ve photographed juvenile Burrowing Owls exhibit the most personality by far. Their repertoire of silly antics, goofy poses, stretches, yawns and grooming behaviors are a photographers dream. And once they feel comfortable in your presence they may even allow you to photograph them for long periods without flying off, retreating to their burrow or showing any signs of nervousness. But to gauge that you have to be able to read their behaviors and it almost always requires the use of high-powered lenses so we don’t feel the need to approach them too closely. We should always be extremely careful to avoid disturbing them in any way.

But you have to find them first and that typically isn’t easy.

The antics of juveniles are much more exaggerated than those of adults so all of the images I’ll present here are of young birds. Some of these photos were taken in less than ideal conditions (harsh light, shadows, clutter) but I think they illustrate the goofball personalities of these birds well.


Giving the photographer a suspicious look

It’s difficult to resist our anthropomorphic tendencies (ascribing “human” emotion or motivation to non-human species) when it comes to juvenile Burrowing Owls so I won’t even try. Besides, it’s my contention that birds and some other critters have many of the same emotions and feelings we do.

This youngster looks to be highly suspicious or dubious of me, even challenging or angry, but in reality I’m confident it was only curious.



Wing stretch with leg back or "They went that-a-way!"

With this “they went that-a-way” pose this image always reminds me of a famous Lewis and Clark painting.



Topsy turvy owl

Juveniles practice their parallax skills often. It involves bobbing, twisting and rotating their heads so their eyes can view an object (in this case me in my pickup) from different positions. This allows them to more accurately determine distance to that object. It’s serious business for owls but to us it can sure look silly. And adorable.



Reaction to sudden and unexpected rain

One sunny and hot August morning I was photographing a pair of juveniles when a single small cloud passed overhead and it started to rain. The reaction of both birds to the sudden raindrops was absolutely hilarious to watch. The second bird was doing the same thing just out of frame to the left. At first they looked up in seeming surprise as if to say “Whoa, what was that?” Then they spread their wings to apparently enjoy their cool, brief shower.




Then both young birds appeared to go into ecstasy over the rain. They crouched down on the perch, spread their wings and tails, lowered their heads, closed their eyes and literally trembled and shook in apparent delight. I’m confident it was just bathing instinct taking over but it sure looked like more than that and it was highly entertaining to watch. I love this look at the long “eyelashes” and white eyelids.



Grooming poseYou never know what interesting or appealing pose you may catch a Burrowing Owl in while it’s preening (grooming). It typically happens very fast and I often don’t even know what I’ve captured until I get home and review the images. Sometimes there’s a pleasant surprise, as in this photo. Usually both eyes are closed during this maneuver but this time I got lucky.



One leggged wing stretch

Juveniles do a lot of stretching, some of it quite creative.



Sibling contrasts

The youngster on the right could barely stay awake. I must have bored him/her but it’s sibling had better tastes in humans and was understandably fascinated by me. 🙂



It's only a yawn

While this bird may look threatening, even angry, in reality it was simply overcome by a yawn as it was checking me out from close range. This image has some flaws but I’ve always liked it anyway.



The weirdest pose of all

This photo is obviously not a quality shot because I had very harsh and contrasty light but I decided to include it because this might be the most unusual pose I’ve seen from a Burrowing Owl of any age. The youngster literally sat down on its rump with its tail hanging down behind the perch and parallaxed me for quite a while. Much of its weight is on its butt rather than its legs. The photo makes me smile every time I see it.



Great pose, different angle

Juvenile Burrowing Owls make wonderful subjects but like all birds they can be frustrating too, especially when they turn their backs on the camera while performing a spectacular pose.

The “end”.


PS – Merry Christmas to all my readers!



61 comments to Juvenile Burrowing Owls – The Clowns Of The Bird World

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>