Friday, October 31, 2008


By now you may have heard about the Burrowing Owl that was discovered Wednesday morning at Montrose near Chicago. Within hours after it was found by a birder, it was killed and eaten by a Cooper's Hawk in the presence of other birders:

"When Chicago birders flocked to Montrose Beach this week for a glimpse of two strange birds not often seen in these parts, they got something far more: a bloody death scene and a queasy feeling they might be partly to blame."

Link: Full story from the Chicago Tribune
The birder who discovered the Burrowing Owl reported it to IBET:

"The Burrowing Owl was initially seen in the path on the east side of the fenced wildflower garden just south of the meadow. It flew off to the east, flushed again, and flew inside the fenced area that borders the south and east sides of the point. I walked inside the fenced area (I know, people aren't supposed to enter this area) and it flushed once again and flew off to the west and wasn't seen again, despite intensive searching. I'm fairly sure the bird is still at Montrose though. Obviously it's very skittish and difficult to see. I never saw it on the ground for any length of time but did see it in flight well. Hopefully the bird will be relocated."

It didn't take long for other birders to join in on the search:

"Met up with others, all looking for the BURROWING OWL, - he was initially flushed at the eastern edge, and flew out into the dunes - made three stops, one in the dune, one in the foredune and then along the pier. He flew south over the pier and then west back into the trees along the south fence. He was seen by numerous folks."

Only hours later, the gloomy news came across IBET:

"...just witnessed a Cooper's hawk catch and kill the burrowing owl at Montrose."

The birder who originally reported the Burrowing Owl replied:

"Drat. I was worried about this happening, what with all of the Cooper's Hawks and Peregrine Falcons that hang around Montrose. Maybe this is why the bird was so skittish and hard to find."

Ya think?

Question: How ethical do you think it was it for birders to report and repeatedly flush the Burrowing Owl knowing Cooper's Hawks and Peregrine Falcons were hanging around Montrose? Also, the birder admits he entered an "off-limtis" area. Regarding bird behavior, I can't speak for Burrowing Owl, but I notice songbirds usually spot raptors well before I do. There is a terse vocal reaction, swift hiding, silence, and then the apparent absence of birds. Some of you have witnessed this during my field trips. Simply walking down a trail will cause birds to flush, so birding can never really be 100% passive - our very presence affects bird behavior. Due to past negative experiences with birders around owls, it's my policy never to report them to birding listservs.

Burrowing Owl image ©

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