The last time a Burrowing Owl—a bird typically found on the Great Plains and western deserts—showed up on the Chicago lakefront was in October 2008, and things did not end well for it. After being seen by birders throughout the morning, it eventually fell prey to an opportunistic Cooper’s Hawk.
Were birders responsible for its untimely death by making it fly too many times? This is a debate that still resonates in the birding community, so when Jerry Goldner and I independently discovered a Burrowing Owl this past Saturday along the lakefront, we had reservations about announcing it to the wider birding community.
Owls are nocturnal birds that are not accustomed to flying around during the day, and Burrowing Owls tend to spend the day perched on the ground hidden in grass or hiding in a burrow. Along the lakefront, this means it would probably spend its time trying to hide in the grasses in the beach, where it would be susceptible to being flushed by over-eager birders wanting to add it to their lists.
With many birds of prey flying around, we wanted to ensure that the bird was not disturbed while still allowing as many birders and passersby to enjoy the beautiful little owl.