It has been an exciting summer here at the Center. The spring was productive for both our breeding program and the programs of our friends and we have some new and exciting birds in our collection as a result. Since I can't talk about them all at once (and because I have already introduced the Eagle Owl), this post will be an introduction to one of the smallest additions of the year; a hatch year female Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia). As both the common and scientific name (cunicularia="miner" hence the EXTREMELY witty title to this post) suggest, these small owls spend a great deal of time on the ground in burrows of their own creation as well as the holes made by other ground dwellers including snakes and groundhogs. They have remarkably long legs and are quick on their feet.
This individual owl was bred by a friend of the Center in New York State and was hand reared with her three siblings ("creche" reared.) Ideally, this will allow us to capitalize on the benefits of a human imprinted owl for training as well as have a bird that will breed (as she knows what other burrowing owls look like having seen her siblings as well as humans.) In this video, you can see that she clearly recognizes other burrowing owls (or rather what she believes are other owls).
With any species that we add to our educational programs and demonstrations, the first challenge is to identify behaviors that are unique or particularly interesting that can be utilized to teach. The obvious behavior with these small owls is their fondness for tunneling. Eventually, we will have a network of tunnels in a variety of locations for the owl to navigate, but the first step was to familiarize her with the tunnels we would use as well as the reward associated with passing through the tunnel. Video 2 shows her cruising the tunnel. It took less than 5 minutes to train this behavior initially and now she wants nothing more than to run through the tunnel!