Burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) are not the most common owl on the North Coast, and are certainly not the owl most closely associated with Redwoods. In fact it is really not that ordinary to see one here at all. Yet here they most definitely are! The most likely places to see A. cunicularia in Humboldt County, according to one of our local guides, is in the driftwood on beaches from the mouth of the Eel River to the mouth of Redwood Creek.
Typically these owls, true to their name, live in underground burrows that they dig themselves, or in burrows that were originally made by another burrowing species such as the California ground squirrel (Otospermophilus beecheyi).
And sometimes they can be found at a motel on Broadway, where US 101 is the main drag through Eureka.
The last Friday of October, Humboldt Wildlife Care Center received a call about an owl hanging around the parking lot of a motel in Eureka. Ordinarily we don’t intervene in the lives of our wild neighbors unless there is a good reason, such a suspected injury or other health problem. Owls are common in our cities and simply being present isn’t cause for alarm.
But this owl was reported on the ground in a location dense with traffic. Also, the people at the motel who reported him said he didn’t fly. When our staff arrived on the scene, they found a Burrowing Owl, in a car wheel well, perched on a tire. When they tried to catch he flew out across the parking lot into a motel room with an open door. While that did make capture easier, it left it unclear if he was well enough to leave alone. The owl was brought back to our clinic.
Burrowing Owls are a very unusual admission for us. We have no records of any Burrowing Owls in care at HWCC before this patient. Fortunately the initial examination found no injuries. Once placed in an aviary, the owl demonstrated excellent flight.
The previous night had seen a heavy blanket of fog. We can safely guess that the owl had been disoriented in those conditions landing not far from what is an ordinary and safe place – no more than a half mile from one of the islands in the bay, or the Samoa peninsula – but deep in a world of imminent peril. But that was the only problem – that civilization lurks in the fog. The only help this owl needed we had already provided. We gave him a lift to better habitat and returned him to his wild freedom.
A small owl who just wants to be free.
The indignities of captivity… soon, it’ll be over!
At the release site – hesitancy is a smart strategy.
The last glimpse we had of this rare patient before s/he merged with the tangled bank …
As always, it’s your generosity that makes our work possible. Without you, there would be no one to answer a phone – there’d be no phone – when a rare owl, or a common songbird, or any of our wild neighbors needs a little, or a lot of help. We are close to 5% above last years admissions to date, and every day we admit more patients – from gulls hit by cars, to seabirds found starving on the beach, to opossum babies still coming in even this late in the year. Thank you for keeping us open, and for providing the only wildlife rehabilitation clinic on the North Coast, from northern Mendocino to the Oregon border.
all photos: Laura Corsiglia/ Bird Ally X