Just as the sun rose last Tuesday, seven owls emerged from a burrow and began stretching their wings near Hamer. Quickly, two of them flew out to join two other owls that had emerged from another burrow about 30 feet away. There were four adults standing guard – two of them in a distant burrow and two others perched on the sagebrush, watching the owls as they hunted for insects.
I had observed them from about 200 meters away and decided to get closer to take pictures. But when I approached, the owls disappeared one by one into the burrows. The adults really didn’t do much except send a warning. I decided to play a waiting game to see how long it took for the owls to reappear.
They almost won the game because I decided to give them 30 minutes, but they had to have a text system going. I waited another 15 minutes before finally seeing the top of a head peeking over the edge of the burrow. Five minutes later, all nine of them were looking at me. A red-tailed hawk passed by and all of them, including the adults, dived into the burrows. Within five minutes, most were back.
The adults didn’t seem to be in a rush to start hunting food for the young, but allowed them to start hunting large insects and scary bugs. One grabbed a grasshopper and swallowed it immediately, while another grabbed a soft-bodied insect and brought it back to show off before it became a snack.
Most owls spent time spreading their wings and then flying from burrow to burrow, greeting those already there, or exploring other holes in the ground. It was a curious bunch of children on a large playground.
After taking a few photos, I decided to take a drive on the Old Butte Highway to Dubois; Take ID Highway 22 until it meets ID Highway 28, then through Monteview to Mud Lake. This slow ride allowed me to observe seven different active burrowing owl nests. I didn’t stop long at each nest, but if I’m bored on a chilly day next month, I might work on taking pictures of them.
At the end of August, the young people will acquire a lot of knowledge before heading south for the winter. They don’t overwinter here. They are real “snowbirds” that follow the warm weather. They will develop mature flying skills that will allow them to fend for themselves.
If you know where a nest is and want some fun, spend an hour or two observing the nest. They will probably put on a show for you. If you’re looking for them, take the mentioned loop, bring a spotter along for the ride, and drive moderately slow and you should find some. Watch for adults sitting on sagebrush or fence posts or even a group of youngsters on the ground. You should be able to find some. There are also burrowing owls located west of Blackfoot and Idaho Falls.
Be careful traveling on secondary roads as the grass and other vegetation is very dry and your car could start a forest fire. Enjoy the great outdoors safely and have a blessed day.