Despite their name Burrowing Owls seldom dig their own burrows, even though they’re fully capable of doing so. Most often they occupy abandoned burrows dug by other burrowing animals such as badgers, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, skunks, marmots, kangaroo rats, armadillos and even tortoises. Once occupied, these “borrowed burrows” are renovated and maintained by the owls by digging but Florida Burrowing Owls are the only ones that normally excavate their own burrows (I wonder why that’s true – a dirth of burrowing mammals in the Sunshine State, perhaps?)
I’ve been aware for years that these owls sometimes take over badger holes but it’s something I’ve never been able to document without question until this week.
Some readers may recall this Antelope Island badger that I posted about last May. It was popping in and out of a recently dug hole and it was obvious that the badger had been the primary excavator.
There were actually two holes adjacent to each other (you can see the other, darker burrow mound behind the badger) that were most likely separate entrances to the same burrow. The badger had killed a Long-tailed Weasel and in this image it’s about to disappear down the burrow with the weasel.
The badger hole is within about six feet of a road on the island and I’ve been watching it carefully all summer but never saw the badger (or any other critter) there again. It had obviously been abandoned because there were never any fresh tracks or scat around the dirt mound.
But a few days ago after being gone for six days on our Montana camping trip it became obvious that in my absence the burrow had been “purposefully recycled” and was now occupied by at least one Burrowing Owl. Here you see the owl on top of the mound of the same badger hole. The light and angle were poor and there are out of focus obstructions in front of the bird but this image documents for me the fact that the badger hole now has a new tenant. I also thought it was interesting to see the difference in vegetation around the burrow over four months. Cheat Grass was the dominant plant around the burrow back in May but now the grass has been displaced by other vegetation.
The natural skeptic in me always appreciates being able to observe or document natural history “factoids” that I’ve always assumed to be true because somebody else said it was so.
This owl at a badger hole was one of those…