Burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia)

Out for a ride to the forest the other day, we came over the crest of a dune and, as often happens, the bike ground to a halt in the soft sand on the other side. Luckily for me, we stopped right beside the burrow of a family of owls, imaginatively named as Burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia).




These small owls (average length 23cm / 9”) are common around here, but it’s rare to be able to get close enough to photograph them without a good long lens, especially as I’m usually out with the dogs and understandably the owls aren’t keen on them. The owls also blend in with their surroundings so well, that you can be virtually on top of one and only know it was there when it flies away.


An owl's burrow

An owl’s burrow

The birds create several false burrows and if they are disturbed by us, they will often fly to a false one, where they hop about and call until they get the attention of the dogs. Once the dogs head in their direction the birds fly off to a safe distance, or dive bomb the dogs if there are young in a burrow and the dogs are too close to it, they keep this up until we clear out of their territory.

Southern crested caracara (Caracara plancus) about to take off

Southern crested caracara
(Caracara plancus) about to take off

A few weeks back Neu and I watched as two adult owls attacked a Southern Caracara (Caracara plancus, also common here, often referred to as an Eagle but is actually in the Falcon family) which had made an attempt on a young burrowing owl as it took what appeared to be one of it’s first flights. Having been seriously harassed the Caracara must have thought there could be an easier lunch elsewhere and the owls successfully drove it away.

This time we obviously caught the owls by surprise. Two adults with two fully grown young, the adults gave their screeching alarm call and flew off pretty quick but the two young, who had been at the burrow entrance when we arrived, flew just a short distance back up the dune and I was able to get some good shots before they also took off, made my day.

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