Burrowing Owls And Badger Holes

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.


badger 1897 ron dudley

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.



badger 2044b ron dudley

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.



burrowing owl 4389 ron dudley

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…





Red-tailed Hawk With Prey

Migrating hawks have become more frequent in the valley of the Great Salt Lake and I’m delighted to see them again.

  • Note: Fair warning – the second photo in this sequence is slightly graphic so sensitive folks may want to avoid scrolling further than the first image. 


red-tailed hawk 6764 ron dudley

 1/3200, f/6.3, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM +1.4 tc, not baited, set up or called in

I photographed this juvenile Red-tailed Hawk yesterday morning near Farmington Bay as it prepared to eat a vole it had just caught.  Its crop already appears to be bulging and it hasn’t yet started feeding on this rodent so hunting is apparently good.  The dark seed heads in the background may be distracting for some but I like the haughty, almost cocky pose from the hawk.

Usually when I see red-tails feeding on voles they tear them into a few relatively large chunks and swallow each piece individually.  This bird chose a different tack.



red-tailed hawk 6835 ron dudley

  1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

It opened the vole, consumed a few tiny bits and then, like I pull a sock off of my foot, it turned the rodent inside-out by pulling it between its beak and one of its feet.  It was a pretty nifty trick to watch and photograph.  I’ll spare you more gory images of the process but as soon as it was accomplished…



red-tailed hawk 6870 ron dudley

 1/2500, f/7.1, ISO 500, Canon 7D, Canon EF500mm f/4L IS II USM, not baited, set up or called in

it swallowed the carcass relatively whole, though certainly transformed.  The hawk then briefly cleaned its feet, roused and took off.

I’m already looking forward to a good “raptor winter” with a variety of hawk, falcon and eagle species.  Partly for my sake, but mostly for theirs, I hope I’m not disappointed.