Burrowing Owls

Burrowing Owl Near the Great Salt Lake
Courtesy Bridgerland Audubon Society
Lyle Bingham, Photographer

This is Dick Hurren from the Bridgerland Audubon Society.

During a recent field trip sponsored by our group, we saw two small burrowing owls with long legs and round faces, standing by their burrow, near the road, on a large stone.

A car stopped close by and the owls disappeared under the ground. Not wanting to disturb them, we stayed in our car to watch the pair. A few minutes later, after the other car left, one of the owls was back on the stone surveying the area and the other reappeared soon thereafter.

Burrowing owls are one of the less commonly seen of the 14 owl species found in Utah. With many former grasslands and prairies, the preferred habitat of these owls, now cities and cultivated farms, these protected birds have tried to adapt.

As their preferred habitats disappear, they may take up residence in cemetaries, golf courses, airports, on the edges of farms or in deserts. But their numbers are declining precipitously.
Most inhabit holes built by other animals. Occasionally, however, they burrow their own holes. For both nesting and off-season living, their preferred holes are bare of vegetation with a nearby mound. They stand on the mound mornings and evenings and hunt primarily nocturnally. Burrowing owls are often common near prairie dog towns and love to take over old prairie dog holes for their own. Where natural burrows are sparse and in winter, they may resort to using dry culverts under roads.

In spring, burrowing owls migrate north from the southerwestern states, that is Texas, New Mexico, Southern California, and Arizona. As well as parts of Mexico and from as far south as Honduras. Some travel as far north as Canada to nest. Most burrowing owls fly back south by the end of September, with the last leaving in October.

Weighing less than 6 ounces, this long-legged owl stands just 8 inches tall. The female incubates from 3 to 11 eggs while the male ferries in food to her for that 30-day period.

Their diet is diverse, a smorgasbord of invertibrates such as scorpions, grasshoppers, beetles, moths and worms as well as vertibrates like kangaroo rats, mice, frogs, snakes and lizards.

Both parents tend to the young until they fledge, at 40 to 45 days. In the burrow, the young can make a buzzy rattle-snake-like sound. This helps deter animals and humans from reaching in the hole to disburb them.

Land owners find that providing space for burrows or by building artificial burrows gives them, that is the landowners, the benefit of a voratious preditor of insects and rodents.

We can enjoy burrowing owls, and help reduce their declining numbers, when we preserve open spaces, restrict free-roaming dogs and cats, and restrict using pesticides that kill owls and the insects and small animals they eat.

For Wild About Utah I’m Dick Hurren.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy Bridgerland Audubon Society, Lyle Bingham, Photographer, https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Voice Talent: Richard (Dick) Hurren, Bridgerland Audubon Society https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/
Text: Lyle Bingham, Bridgerland Audubon Society https://bridgerlandaudubon.org/

Additional Reading:

Woodin, M.C., Skoruppa, M.K., and Hickman, G.C., 2007, Winter ecology of the Western Burrowing Owl (Athene
cunicularia hypugaea) in Southern Texas 1999–2004: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report
2007–5150, 33 p. http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2007/5150/
http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2007/5150/pdf/SIR2007-5150.pdf

Romin, Laura A. and Muck, James A., Utah Field Office Guidelines for Raptor Protection from Human and Land Use Disturbances, Utah, Laura A. Romin and James A. Muck, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Field Office, May 1999,
https://fs.ogm.utah.gov/pub/MINES/Coal_Related/MiscPublications/USFWS_Raptor_Guide/RAPTORGUIDE.PDF

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia), Factsheets, Hawkwatch International,
https://hawkwatch.org/learn/factsheets/item/827-burrowing-owl

Burrowing Owl, Utah Division of Natural Resources,
http://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=athecuni

Burrowing Owls, Burrowing Owl Preservation Society (California), https://burrowingowls.org/

Wright, Tony, A little owl makes a big journey, Wildlife Blog, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/wildlife-blog/711-a-little-owl-makes-a-big-journey.html

Magpies a.k.a. Holstein Pheasants

Magpies a.k.a. Holstein Pheasants: A Dark Black-billed Magpie, Courtesy Bridgerland Audubon Society Library, Stephen Peterson, Photographer
A Dark Black-billed Magpie
Courtesy Bridgerland Audubon Society Library
Stephen Peterson, Photographer

I knew a man who referred to those black and white, long-tailed birds as “Holstein Pheasants.”
He used to say, you can shoot pheasants, can’t you? Magpies are loved or hated. Few are without opinions when it comes to these protected, I remind you protected, birds.
In Asia, they are revered for good luck; while their relatives, the crows, are omens of bad luck.

The black-billed magpie of Utah is related to the yellow-billed magpies in California and more distantly to the European magpie and the Korean magpie.
They all have a similar general appearance, black and white with a long black tail.

Our Black-billed magpies mate for life and stay together until one dies. Then the other may find a new mate.

Their home-building skills will not produce awards for neatness on the outside. But are marvels of architecture.
Nests are collections of loose sticks, mud, bark and other available materials, often built on older nests. A hood of loose sticks covers the nest with multiple entrances.
And the inside is lined with soft grasses and other materials.

Once the nest is built, the female lays six or seven eggs. While she sets on the eggs, the male feeds her for up to 18 days. The parents feed their young about two months, even though the young fledge in about a month. Upon independence from their parents, the young flock with other young magpies.

Magpies can be seen harassing hawks, eagles and owls as they perch in trees.
But despite the begrudging landlords, owls and hawks often take up residence in old magpie nests.

Bold and gregarious, magpies are well adapted to man. They are the bane of back yard bird feeders, driving songbirds away and eating everything in sight.
I know at least one local birder, however, who enjoys magpies and attracts them with Cheetos and soft cat food, but on the other side of the house from her regular bird feeders.

Magpies are opportunists and nest raiders. They are despised by hunters because they clean out unprotected and abandoned nests.
And fruit growers fight them with netting, flags and pyrotechnics. But don’t hold that against them.
These Holsteins clean up roadkill, tent caterpillars, grasshoppers and many other things that we’d rather not see or smell.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Dick Hurren.

Credits:

Photos: Courtesy Bridgerland Audubon Society Image Files
Text: Lyle Bingham and Dick Hurren, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds, Black-Billed Magpie, http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Black-billed_Magpie_dtl.html, Accessed July 31, 2008

http://www.enature.com/flashcard/show_flash_card.asp?recordNumber=BD0032, Accessed July 31, 2008

http://www.birdweb.org/birdweb/bird_details.aspx?id=315, Accessed July 31, 2008

http://wdfw.wa.gov/wlm/living/magpies.htm, Accessed July 31, 2008

 

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: California Gull, Courtesy and Copyright 2003 Jack Binch - All Rights Reserved
Callifornia Gull
Larus californicus
Courtesy and Copyright 2003 Jack Binch
All Rights Reserved

Utah’s state bird is is commemorated as the seagull, more accurately the the California Gull. Known in Utah for having saved the pioneers from the Mormon cricket invasion of 1848 and subsequent years, gulls hold a hallowed place in local history.

Seagull is a generic term referring to gulls of all types. Gulls we are familiar with range from the small 11-inch Bonaparte’s gull with a 32-inch wingspan to the 20-inch Herring gull with a 55-inch wingspan. They are white, grey and some have black heads. Young go through phases giving them different appearances as they mature over two to four years depending upon the species.

Many Gulls migrate to parts of Utah and some pass through in their migration to more northern regions. Ring-billed gulls are here during the fall, winter, and spring. The occasional Herring or Thayer’s gull may visit us in winter. A few black-headed Bonaparte’s gulls pass through reliably in spring and fall during migration. Upon rare occasions, we are even visited by Herrman’s, Western, Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Mew, yellow-footed , Sabine’s, Iceland, and lesser black-backed gulls.

In spring, the California gulls and the much smaller and black-headed Franklin’s gulls return to nest. They migrate from southern states or the pacific coast and raise their young locally on islands in fresh and salt water.

Gulls clean up. They frequent garbage dumps, and irrigated, plowed or manure-covered fields. These carnivores eat insects, worms, crustaceans, fish and the occasional french fry in a parking lot. Opportunistic, they watch and raid unprotected nests of other birds, eating eggs and young. Sometimes flying singly, they are more often found in flocks. In flocks they defend against predators by harassment and intimidation.

Thayer’s and Herring gulls have been known to use tools. They have been seen dropping shellfish on asphalt or concrete roads to crack them open and eat the contents.

At the store, take a moment to think about our state bird. In the dump, and in waterways, gulls can become entrapped in six-pack rings. Do your part to prevent this by cutting up these plastic rings before disposing of them. Or better yet, buy cans loose or in boxes instead of rings.

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: Credits

Photos: Courtesy and © copyright 2003 Jack Binch, as found on www.Utahbirds.org

Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society: Lyle Bingham and Dick Hurren

A Moment to Think About Our State Bird: Additional Reading:

Utah Symbols – California gull

Utah State Bird – Sea Gull(The California gull, Larus californicus), Utah’s Online Library, Utah State Library Division, Utah Department of Heritage & Arts, https://www.utah.gov/about/state-symbols.html

Bonaparte’s Gull, Larus philadelphia

Bonaparte’s gull Larus philadelphia, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0600id.html

Bonaparte’s Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Bonapartes_Gull

Herring Gull, Larus argentatus

Herring gull Larus argentatus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0510id.html

Herring Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Herring_Gull

Herring Gull(Flying Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsD-K/HerringGull3.htm

California gull, Larus californicus

California gull Larus californicus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0530id.html

California Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/California_Gull

California Gull(Adults Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsA-C/CaliforniaGull.htm

California Gull(Close-up Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsA-C/CaliforniaGull2.htm

Franklin’s gull, Larus pipixcan

Franklin’s gull Larus pipixcan, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0590id.html

Franklin’s Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Franklins_Gull

Thayer’s gull, Larus thayeri
(Note: Reclassified in 2017 as Iceland Gull Larus glaucoides)

Thayer’s gull Larus thayeri, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i0518id.html

Iceland Gull (Thayer’s), eBird, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://ebird.org/species/thagul

Iceland Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Iceland_Gull

California Gull(Juveniles Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/ThayersGull2.htm

Handbook of the Birds of the World 3: 609. Lynx Edicions. Larus thayeri (TSN 176828). Integrated Taxonomic Information System. Retrieved on 10 March 2006.

Ring-billed gull, Larus delawarensis

Ring-billed gull Larus delawarensis, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0540id.html

Ring-billed Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ring-billed_Gull

Mew Gull, Larus canus

Mew gull Larus canus, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/Infocenter/i0550id.html

Mew Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Mew_Gull

Mew gull(Front Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsL-R/MewGull.htm

Glaucous-winged Gull, Larus glaucescen

Glaucous-winged gull Larus glaucescen, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/infocenter/i0440id.html

Glaucous-winged Gull, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Glaucous-winged_Gull

Glaucous-winged Gull(Adults Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsD-K/GlaucousWingedGull.htm

Sabine’s Gull, Xema sabini

Sabine’s gull Xema sabini, Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, USGS, https://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/infocenter/i0620id.html

Sabine’s Gull(Breeding Collection), UtahBirds.org, Utah County Birders, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/SabinesGull.htm

Handbooks & References

Bridgerland Audubon Checklist of Birds, http://www.bridgerlandaudubon.org/checklist.htm

Sibley, David Allen. The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America ISBN 0-679-45121-8 Bull, John; Farrand, Jr., John (April 1984).

The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 0-394-41405-5.

The Occupants on Robin Street

The Occupants on Robin Street: American Robin, Courtesy US NPS, Will Elder, Photographer
American Robin (Turdus migratorius)
Courtesy US NPS
Will Elder, Photographer
NPS American Robin
Hi, I’m Dick Hurren from the Bridgerland Audubon Society in Cache Valley.

Isn’t it interesting how shopping centers and housing developments are named after things that used to be: Fair Meadows Court, Rustic Drive, White Pines Lane, Riverwoods, Apple blossom Circle. There is one place that is named for its current occupants: Robin Street.

The American Robin is one of the most adapted birds to human development. It is also one of the most recognized. Robin redbreast is found not only by the stream, but in back yards, and city parks. We see them hopping across lawns, cocking their heads to see close up and picking out juicy worms. They also feast on cherries and other fruits. They can be seen and heard high in trees or on house peaks identifying their territory. Think about how they were in the past, pulling worms from a meadow and eating native berries. They actually have it better now.

They interact near us most often during breeding season. Robins build nests in trees or on sheltered ledges and platforms on buildings.

Both parents work to build the nest from sticks, thread, mud, and other available materials. The grass inner lining is soft against a woven-mud-covered bowl. Nest building is completed about 10 days before eggs are laid. The eggs are laid, one per day until a clutch of 3 or 4 fill the nest. The eggs define the pale blue-green color “Robin’s egg blue”.

The female sets on the eggs about two weeks until the young hatch blind and featherless. Mother and more often the father feeds the young. In another two weeks they are fully feathered and trying their wings. While the male feeds the young the female can be building another nest. Robins can produce 2 or 3 broods a year.

The robin’s size and shape is so well known that they are used as a standard to compare other birds.

But its a rough life being a robin. Only 40 percent of the nests built successfully rear a brood. Of the young hatched, 25 percent live through November. Although a robin may live up to 14 years, in any given year, only about half of the robins alive will live until the next year. Lawn chemicals and uncontrolled pets are part of the robin’s equation of life and death. The population of robins turns over on average every 6 years.

Robins roost in groups, except during the season when the females are setting on the nest. Males always roost in groups. After breeding, the nestlings and females join the male flock. Flocks of robins don’t frequent backyards as much in winter as they do in the nesting season. Some robins migrate, but some also live year-round in the same location. Robins remain in flocks until the spring nesting season when they again divide up into pairs and return to parks, back yards and Robin street.

For Wild About Utah I’m Dick Hurren.

Credits:

Photo: Courtesy of National Park Service, US Department of the Interior www.nps.gov/prsf/naturescience/american-robin.htm

Text: Bridgerland Audubon Society

For More Information:

http://www.norcrossws.org/html/robins2.htm

Complete Birds of North America, Jonathan Alderfer, ed. National Geographic, 2006

http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/robin/NestBox.html

http://www.wild-bird-watching.com/Robins.html

http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/warobin.asp


http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/American_Robin.html

Kelly, Patrick, A Moral Dilemma, Wild About Utah, June 29, 2020, https://wildaboututah.org/a-moral-dilemma/

Bengston, Anna, Robins in Winter, Wild About Utah, March 13, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/robins-in-winter/

Bengston, Anna, American Robin, Wild About Utah, January 18, 2016, https://wildaboututah.org/american-robin-160118/