A tough owl…

Burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) used to be very common in Uruguay in the past and I remember, about 50 years back, seeing them perched on fence posts at frequent intervals. Regrettably, the advent of generalized use of pesticides meant that they almost disappeared and they are now relatively rare.

We were happy to find that in the Yungas of Salta, where our small farm is located, they are quite common, particularly in an area devoid of tree cover a short distance beyond our farm where we watch them from time to time. Luckily pesticide use here is still rare!

It was during one of these visits that we found the group composed of probably two adults (placed at both ends) and two babies showing only their heads, ready to disappear down their burrow in case of emergency.

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I was busy taking the first set of pictures when the adult on the left started to run towards me. I was quite impressed by its threatening behaviour as -I thought- it takes courage to attempt to scare off a large ape! It bobbed its head repeatedly, a normal behaviour of these birds and a couple of times it actually appeared to dig and scratch the soil with its beak. After a while it ran back to join the rest of its family and stood again where it was earlier.



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After a while we left them to enjoy their owl family life and we returned to our log fire at home. Much later, while checking the pictures taken that day, I realized that in fact the owl was not threatening me but that it was after prey! I had missed the details in vivo but these were apparent when I looked at the various pictures.

The owl had spotted a large beetle half way from me and it rushed to get it (rather than to scare me off!), caught it, tried it and spat it out, as it must have tasted bad! I can only assume that he discarded it, as I believe that eating it would have taken some effort! Although I fear for the beetle after the rough treatment received, these insects are quite common around here and I do not believe that its absence will be noted…





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