Thursday, September 15, 2011

Owl Affairs

Over this past breeding season, Spring through Summer, a female Burrowing Owl nested and fledged eight young. Oddly enough, she did it with two nests. Odder still, one nest was in Arizona, while the other was over 1,100 miles away in Saskatchewan. This incredible behavior was reported in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology 2011 and posted on the American Birding Association blog last week.
This ambitious female was first found on 14 April during a study of Burrowing Owls in the Tucson area. While her first mate was visible guarding the entrance, the female was found inside incubating a single egg (seen with an infrared scope). Both owls were banded on April 27th, and a juvenile was detected on May 21st, but the female owl, who shall henceforth be referred to as Margaret, soon felt dissatisfied with her home life and up'n r-u-n-n-o-f-t. 
Margaret spent the month of June redefining and discovering herself--perhaps she learned to Eat, Pray, and Love while visiting third world countries--before she was rediscovered (by her band) in a pasture in southern Saskatchewan on July 12th. Not only had Margaret settled down again, she had rediscovered her maternal drive! With her new fung shui nest and new Canadian beaux, she fledged seven more young in the reinvigorating Northern climes.
It is not unheard of for owls to re-nest locally with other mates or other burrows, but the sheer distance involved in Margaret's affair has shook the world of behavioral studies to its core. Her Summer gallivant flies against the  governing assumption that (non-human) animals tend to expend the least possible energy, that is, move in the most efficient way, to actualize their survival and progenitorial instincts. Maybe Margaret was just fed up with the Arizona heat. Maybe her first mate wasn't virile enough. While one can wish Margaret the best with her new brood, one must also wonder about her first born. Will she visit that chick on the weekends? Will the male owl ever be able to love again, or is his trust forever shattered?
I've only ever seen the fairly common (and still incredibly cool) Great Horned Owl. I'd love to see and photograph a Burrowing owl in Arizona, or any other owl for that matter. I hope a few of them decide to stick around this year...