Posted by: atowhee | January 15, 2022


Tim Johnson took this great photo of a staring friend along Blueberry Road near Halsey yesterday–that’s between Albany and Eugene.

Burrowing Owls are not known to nest west of the Cascades…now. There is some evidence that the birds bred in the Willamette Valley as recently as early 1900s. Of course intensive and/or modern agriculture is their scourge. Plows and poisons do them in. They also once bred in the Rogue Valley of Jackson County. When Oregon’s oaks forests were managed by the Native Americans using fire even the rainy Willamette Valley would have been ideal habitat. No longer. The same has happened in California–wipe out. In the late 19th Century much of the Central Valley was used to grow wheat. Every ranch then had its colonies of Burrowing Owls that lived on the rodents that lived on the wheat. Growers loved their owls…then. Modern ag industry has just about wiped out Burrowing Owls over much of their former range. Most californians have never seen nor heard of them. Once the most abundant bird in California–by some old estmates–Burrowing Owls are going the way of the Passenger Pigeon.

In 1923 William Dawson wrote in BIRDS OF CALIFORNIA: “Billy Owl’ is the humorous and half affectionate name bestowed by all good Californians upon this familiar sprite of the roadside, this authentic genius of open spaces. Like an elfin sentry the bird challenges from his earthen mound, denouces us valorously as trespassers, and then either dives ignominiously below or flees to some distant sage top…
Soberly regarding the special claims of the hay rancher and grain grower, I should say that, save the Barn Owl only, the Burrowing Owl is his best ally among birds, and that he who wantonly destroys one should be classed with the man who trsmples a field of grain or sets fire to a haystack…
Squirrel poison claims occasional victims, especially the bisulphide variety; and the Owls will disappear from sections where poison is persistently used.

So a century ago Dawson understood what people were already starting to do to this species, among many. But then think of the fortunes made over the century by selling ag chemicals round the globe. Nobody makes money off a meer Burrowing Owl.

Click here for report on how one organic grower is HELPING these guys.

Burrowing Owl is one species we expect to see on our trips in Malheur Basin. Thsi spring I have birding trips set for May and June., Contact Malheur Field Station by phone for details. Click here for images from a JUne Malheur trip…Burrowing Owl inthe cow pasture.

Here is some advice shared on an email group about not disturbonig these guys: “People need to use their heads when birding and coming across these little guys.  After seeing one for multiple years, I made the mistake of mentioning an owl location on OBOL and have never seen one back at that location since.  After that I left OBOL and stopped using Ebird.  We went to the Blueberry location recently (we’ve known about it for years) and now you almost need traffic control.  I have since found out the location was posted on Ebird.  The owl is much more skittish now than in years past.  I fear it will, actually I hope it finds another location where we may chance upon it again someday.

“We drive Linn County most every weekend searching for raptors to photograph.  It is nice that folks are out birding but there is more traffic out over the last year than we have ever seen.  Everyone should remember that the best blind is your vehicle and a scope or proper camera lens are as close as you should get to these fragile little owls.”

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