by Stacy Burleigh
Zanjero Park Burrowing Owl of 86X photo by Rick Inskeep
Even though we hoped all ten owls would stay on site, the owls have the choice of staying or leaving. At least they were alive to make that choice thanks to the efforts of many of you, Greg Clark, and Wild at Heart’s burrowing owl relocation program. And then as always with all wildlife whether in urban or in more wild areas, there is the circle of life.
It was just April 28th that we released the 5 males and 5 females from the acclimatization tent! The first owl up the hill to the burrows from the release site was a male…was it the “Grinch” aka the ring leader in the unsuccessful escape attempt from the tent a month earlier?? He only stays onsite for a couple days.
Just eleven days later we had our first local owl show up! We immediately knew he was male as he wasted no time mating with banded female 88X. They established a nest in #39. We named him “Palemale” as he was a beautiful light-colored owl.
On day twelve, banded female 86X makes her way up the hill and establishes her residency around burrows #21-24. She becomes our most dependably-seen owl, one we can count on to easily show the public at our monthly “Owl Walk and Talks”.
By May 22nd, all five banded males and 2 banded females have left the site. We obviously do not know why they left but I suspect it was a combination of availability of food, interaction dynamics at the release site, and the trials and tribulations of being celebrities. The third female who stayed was 90X. She tried to come up to the hill burrows but Palemale kept her to the release site.
Stacy models Desert Rivers Audubon’s 2013 t-shirt, available at our upcoming events.
On June 27th, we witnessed our own scene from a nature show, when Palemale defended 88X and his nest from a coyote. He chased, screeched, and dive bombed the coyote relentlessly. The coyote still almost got 88X when she flew too low towards the coyote and it lunged straight up only missing her by inches!
Two days later during the June “Owl Walk and Talk”, we were perplexed by Palemale’s absence, but excited to witness a nestling coming out of #39. This excitement was short lived as Palemale continued to be absent in the days following. Since both the mate and nestlings are dependent on the male bringing food at this critical stage of rearing young, I knew our nestling(s) did not have a chance of survival. (I surmised that Palemale so exhausted himself that evening he was probably more susceptible to predation).
July 4th not only brought fireworks directly across the street from Zanjero Park, but also brought a second local owl to the site. This owl was very skittish and hung out adjacent to 86X at #23-24. October 3rd was the last time we saw this local owl. I was pretty concerned about the effect the fireworks would have on the owls, but thanks to volunteers talking to firework watchers they managed fine.
With Palemale gone, 90X is seen up the hill for the first time. She immediately starts hanging out with 88X that begins a cozy relationship between the two. (Is 90X a misbanded male or is mounting and lovey-dovey behavior between females normal in the non-breeding period??). Today you can find 90X at #50 and 88X usually at #39-44.
July 11th brings our first local pair at #57-58. They stayed at the park until August 30th.
With all the release site burrows now available for occupancy, another new local owl finds that area to its liking on July 17th. Ninety-nine percent of the time it can be seen standing on the edge of the pipe of burrow #74.
This photo of Palemale is by Josh McClain.
Shortly after the local pair leaves at #57-58 another local owl comes in and takes up residence in burrow #60 on September 5th. We nicknamed him/her “Angry Eyes”. If he/she had lasers in those eyes we would have been incinerated in pretty quick order, even at the distance that we monitor the owls from!
On the evening of October 3rd, we get a really nice surprise to find a new local pair doing LOTS of mating behavior. And…he is large in comparison to the female. They took up residence at #15-16. Another cool thing about these two is we can watch them leave to hunt every evening shortly after sunset. (We never see the other owls leave to hunt in either the morning or evening). The male is always out of the burrow first and once the sun has set he can often be seen and heard telling her it is time to go. We have to keep our distance, though, as it will delay her coming out and he will grow impatient and leave without her.
On October 24th, 86X is not seen for first time ever. I was so concerned that the next night my husband and I came back out and unfortunately found evidence of owl predation (splattered owl feathers in one spot) found in the rocks below burrow hill at east end of park. Two weeks later Greg Clark was out with some students looking at owl pellets and found an owl carcass. Greg suspected great horned owl.
Zanjero Park, 3785 S. Lindsay Rd., Gilbert
Greg was surprised that the pellets showed the owls were eating mainly insects. Being so close to agricultural fields, it is expected they would be eating more rodents. On November 21st, the morning monitoring group began picking up pellets to determine if Greg’s first observation is a true trend. So far the trend has continued. As insects lessen with winter, if the owls are not able to switch to rodents, they may be forced to leave. (Is the farmer putting down rodentcide?)
On Nov 28th, we found a second owl predation down again in the lower rocks below burrow hill. Both Angry Eyes and #15-16 female were not spotted that night. Two nights later, #15-16 female was seen. Angry Eyes has not been seen since. L
So as the new year of 2013 begins we have 5 owls in residence at Zanjero’s Burrowing Owl Habitat-3 locals (local pair #15-16, release site owl) and two banded transplants (female 88X and female 90X). Please join us at our “Owl Walk and Talk” the 4th Saturday of each month to get the latest scoop and an up close view of the owls through a scope. Please check DRAS’s website calendar for start times as it changes. If you would like to be involved in the citizen science aspect of the project monitoring the owls we are out every Wednesday alternating each week between morning and evening.
Happy New Year Everyone! Thank you to all the volunteers who helped with Zanjero’s Burrowing Owls in 2012!