A Burrowing Owl at Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

Every year, I embark on a wildlife photography adventure, and this year, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma was my destination. As always, I checked in with my photographer friends on Facebook before I left. Their tip? Look out for the Burrowing Owls!

One amazing friend, Janis Blanton, went above and beyond by marking their location on a map for me. Thanks to Janis, I was lucky enough to spot a Burrowing Owl quickly after arriving. But getting the perfect photo took some time (and patience!).

Several days passed before I managed to capture an image I liked. It wasn’t exactly ideal conditions – it was raining, and the light wasn’t the greatest. But there’s something about the photo that turned out well – a wet Burrowing Owl perched near its burrow. While I only saw one owl on this trip, my fellow photographers suspected the female was likely tending to eggs underground.

A Wet Burrowing Owl
A Wet Burrowing Owl

What really fascinated me was that this particular Burrowing Owl pair shared their space with a bunch of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs. Curious about this living arrangement, I did some research and discovered a pretty cool partnership.

Prairie Dogs: The Ultimate Burrowing Buddies

Burrowing Owls, as their name suggests, rely on pre-existing burrows for nesting and roosting. These burrows are typically dug by helpful critters like prairie dogs, ground squirrels, and even badgers! In fact, studies show that around 95% of Burrowing Owls in certain grasslands choose to nest within active Black-tailed Prairie Dog colonies, taking advantage of abandoned burrows.

There’s a reason for this preference. Prairie dogs are constantly digging new burrows and maintaining existing ones, providing the owls with fresh options. But the benefits go beyond comfy digs.

Living the Good Life with Prairie Dog Neighbors

Prairie dog colonies offer the perfect habitat for Burrowing Owls. They thrive on the low vegetation, bare ground, and readily available perches that these colonies provide. But that’s not all! The owls also benefit from the prairie dogs’ keen eye for predators. Prairie dogs act as a living alarm system, keeping watch for danger and letting out warning calls that benefit both species.

The research also suggests a connection between the size of the prairie dog colony and the number of Burrowing Owl nests. This makes perfect sense – more burrows mean more nesting opportunities for the owls!

This unexpected animal partnership is a great example of how creatures can benefit from living together. My trip to Wichita Mountains may have been a little damp, but thanks to the Burrowing Owls and their prairie dog partners, it was definitely a photographic success!

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