Posted by: atowhee | June 18, 2012


There are five species of owl you can reasonably expect to find at Malheur NWR: Grest Horned, Short-eared and Long-eared, Barn and Burrowing. This week we saw four of those and got pictures of each. Here are my photos. A great photo of a flying Short-eared Owl by Bob Mandell will appear in this blog in the near future. Wait for it! The Burrowing Owl was once widespread and common in dryland and grassland habitat around the Western U.S. In many areas now it’s been extirpated, incompatible with pavement and pesticides. In his 1944 book on California bird distribution, Joseph grinnell wrote of this species: “originally common, even ‘abundant.’ Latterly becoming scarce in settled parts of state; reasons roadside shooting, anti-‘vermin’ campaigns, elimination of ground squirrels.” Into the early 20th Century the bird was a common roadside sight across the west and was widely called “Billy Owl.” It is safe to say that most current humans on the Pacific Slope from Seattle to San Diego have not ever seen this owl and would be surprised to find any diurnal owl living in a burrow.
The Burrowing Owl is not strictly diurnal, doing much foraging at dusk and during the dark overnight hours as well. This owl is the only species in its genus. It’s the only North American land bird to dwell underground.
Less than 10 inches tall the Burrowing Owl eats a wide variety of inverftebrates as well as small rodents and birds. The burrows may be 15 feet long or more, often enlarged rodent burrows. The owl uses its strong feet to dig. Those feet are at the end of proportionately long legs. Many oregon Burrowing Owls are believed to winter in California. This owl is found in many suitable habitats around the Western Hemisohere but not the Eastern U.S.
We found Burrowing Owls both in Lake and Harney Counties. Both times Billy Owl was easily seen from busy highways. The one burrow we found was less than fifteen feet from the edge of the pavement. we fouknd Barn Owls roosting in niches in two different cliffs at Malheur. This species is widely distributed across the globe. On a birding trip to Uganda this was the first bird I saw.
This Grean Horned Owl family was in the trees at the Malheur NWR headquarters. There were two fledged youngsters present, growing their adult style feathers but the baby fuzz persisted.
The Great Horned Owl is found throughout the Western hemispohere and has cousins that share its genus across the globe from Africa to the Philippines.han In the Western U.S. it is widespread but never numerous. Perhaps becaude of its large size and an appetite to match. This owl is about 22 inches tall, the female being slighter larger than the male. Only the Snowy and Great Owl are taller. The GHO has a 44 inch wingspan, about 5 inches less than a Red-tailed Hawk.
All owls are predators, of course, anbd the Barn and Gfreat Horned are nocturnal competitors. It is not uncommon for the larger Great Horned to drive Barn Owls from a roost or territory.

MY SHORT-EARED OWL PIC: This bird was at the north end of Lawen Road, hunting mid-day. While Burrowing Owls need dry ground and short grass, the Short-eared Owl nests on the ground in marshy areas. This bird was hunting, however, in dry sagebrush, at least a mile from the nearest wetlands.


  1. […] evolved for speed and can accelerate like a race csr, going from alert to a full run in an instant. Here’s my blog on Malheur’s Owls. Share this:EmailDiggRedditStumbleUponPrintLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: