Swedish northern-hawk owl videos


This is a northern hawk-owl video from Sweden.

This is another northern hawk-owl video from Sweden.

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How burrowing owls help desert plants


This 2014 video says about itself:

We are on the vast plains of Venezuela. Burrowing owls are fond of lizards, rats and frogs, but they’ll hunt just about anything as long as it’s not too big.

From Science News today:

Burrowing birds create pockets of rich plant life in a desert landscape

Mounds of sand dug out by nest-digging birds are microhabitats where seeds can germinate

In the rain-starved deserts of coastal Peru, tiny patches surprisingly rich in plant life dot the landscape. Burrowing birds may be responsible, scientists say.

Mounds of sand shoveled out by nest-digging burrowing owls and miner birds harbor more seedlings and exclusive plant varieties compared with surrounding undisturbed soils, researchers from the National University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru report in the October Journal of Arid Environments. Although the mounds hold fewer seeds, the structures may provide a sheltered and moist germination environment at the start of the growing season — unlike adjacent crusty soils carpeted with cyanobacteria, lichen, moss and algae.

“The ability of seeds to germinate in the desert is a daunting task,” says Jayne Belnap, a U.S. Geological Survey ecologist based in Moab, Utah, who wasn’t involved in the study, “especially if you have a crust.”

That crust inhibits seed growth in two ways. Seeds stranded on top are exposed to the harsh environment, and may not be able to sprout at all. And the crust itself can act as a barrier for water to reach buried seeds, and for seedlings to emerge.

But when burrowing birds break the crust and dig up sand, seeds can mix into the sand, and water may pool between the tossed sand and crust, the researchers say. That allows seeds to become buried and accumulate moisture needed to germinate.

While it’s known that burrowing mammals can break compacted soils and create nutrient-rich hot spots ideal for plant establishment, this study is the first to document similar ecosystem engineering done by dryland birds.

In 2016, Maria Cristina Rengifo-Faiffer, an ecologist now at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, collected soils in the National Reserve of Lachay in Peru. The area lies in a part of the Atacama Desert (SN: 2/27/18) where lomas, or mist oases, exist. It rarely rains there and most plants rely on three months of winter fog to complete their life cycle.

Samples came from 61 mounds dug up by three bird species — burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia), coastal miner (Geositta peruviana) and greyish miner (G. maritima) — as well as from adjacent undisturbed areas. She watered the soil and allowed seeds to sprout in a greenhouse, using that as a proxy for how many viable seeds there were in the soils.

The bird mounds, on average, held 1,015 seeds per square meter, while the same-sized soil crust areas housed 2,740 seeds, Rengifo-Faiffer and ecologist Cesar Arana found.

But a catalog of natural germination out in the desert found that the bird-tossed soil was much more fertile than the crust: On average, 213 seedlings sprouted out of the bird mounds compared with 176 that emerged from adjacent crusty soils.

The team also found that five plant species appear exclusively in the bird-disturbed areas, including Amaranthaceae and Malvaceae species. These “microhabitats” created by burrowing birds are important to maintain plant diversity, Rengifo-Faiffer says.

“To me, that’s the coolest part of this study,” Belnap says. “You’re facilitating the presence of other species by having this burrowing happen.”

Roman poet Ovid, owls, superstition and love


Ascalaphus is turned into an owl. Engraving by Johann Ulrich Krauß, 1690

This picture is a 1690 engraving by Johann Ulrich Krauß. It shows a story much older than 1690. It is an illustration to the long poem Metamorphoses by Roman poet Ovid.

In book V of Metamorphoses, Ovid writes about a minor god in Greek polytheism, Ascalaphus. He was the custodian of the orchard of Hades, the god of the underworld. Hades had abducted Persephone, the daughter of Demeter, the goddess of agriculture. The supreme god Zeus decided that Persephone had the right to return to her mother, if she had not eaten anything in the underworld. Persephone had just eaten a few pomegranate anils. The only one who has seen that was Ascalaphus. He told the other gods. That meant that Persephone had to stay in the underworld, at least for six months of the year.

Persephone was so angry that she changed Ascalaphus into an owl by sprinkling him with water of the underworld river Phlegethon. The Johann Ulrich Krauß engraving depicts this metamorphosis from humanish divine form to owl.

The engraving caption says that Ascalaphus becomes a ‘Stein-Eule’. The modern German name for this owl species is Steinkauz. The English name is little owl. Ovid does not specify which owl species Ascalaphus became.

K. Sara Myers wrote in the American Journal of Philology that he became a screech owl. However, these American owls were unknown to Ovid and other Roman empire age Europeans.

Ovid writes in Metamorphoses, book V, lines 549-550 (translated):

So he became the vilest bird; a messenger of grief; the lazy owl; sad omen to mankind.

Deane Lewis writes:

Introduction

Throughout history and across many cultures, people have regarded Owls with fascination and awe. Few other creatures have so many different and contradictory beliefs about them. Owls have been both feared and venerated, despised and admired, considered wise and foolish, and associated with witchcraft and medicine, the weather, birth and death. Speculation about Owls began in earliest folklore, too long ago to date, but passed down by word of mouth over generations.

In early Indian folklore, Owls represent wisdom and helpfulness, and have powers of prophecy. This theme recurs in Aesop‘s fables and in Greek myths and beliefs. By the Middle Ages in Europe, the Owl had become the associate of witches and the inhabitant of dark, lonely and profane places, a foolish but feared spectre.

Unfortunately, at some times and places in human history, including India and Zimbabwe, superstitious prejudices have arisen against owls. These prejudices can be overcome by education about these interesting and useful birds. Apparently also in ancient Rome, when we read Ovid’s lines, there was anti-owl prejudice.

Deane Lewis mentions differences between Greek and Roman mythology on owls:

In the mythology of ancient Greece, Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom, was so impressed by the great eyes and solemn appearance of the Owl that, having banished the mischievous crow, she honoured the night bird by making him her favourite among feathered creatures. Athena’s bird was a Little Owl (Athene noctua). This Owl was protected and inhabited the Acropolis in great numbers. It was believed that a magical “inner light” gave Owls night vision. As the symbol of Athene, the Owl was a protector, accompanying Greek armies to war, and providing ornamental inspiration for their daily lives. If an Owl flew over Greek Soldiers before a battle, they took it as a sign of victory. The Little Owl also kept a watchful eye on Athenian trade and commerce from the reverse side of their coins.

Athenian tetradrachm from after 499 BCE

This photo shows a tetradrachm coin from ancient Athens, after 499 BCE. On one side, Athena, the protector goddess of the city. On the other side, the little owl, the goddess’ bird.

Greek 1 Euro coin with little owl, 2002

This photo shows a Greek 1 euro coin with a little owl, from 2002.

‘While the owl was seen by the Greeks as a protector, the Romans saw it more as a harbinger of doom’, this blog says. So says Paul D. Frost; and the British Bird Lovers site.

Diana Lewis also mentions ideas about owls in Ovid’s Roman empire, different from ancient Greece:

The Roman army was warned of impending disaster by an owl before its defeat at Carrhae, on the plains between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers.

According to Artemidorus, a second century soothsayer, to dream of an owl meant that a traveller would be shipwrecked or robbed.

Another Roman superstition was that witches transformed into owls, and sucked the blood of babies.

2019 American barred owl nest webcam highlights


This 14 August 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

2019 Barred Owl Cam Season Highlights

Relive all the wonderful memories from the 2019 Wild Birds Unlimited Barred Owl cam!

Classic hooting calls announced the return of the owls to their rural Indiana nest box. “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you-all?”

In the following days, two white eggs appeared beneath the female. The male played the role of hunter while his mate tended to the eggs. As opportunistic predators, Barred Owls eat everything from small mammals to aquatic prey, like crayfish.

Incubation continued for 33 days before the eggs started hatching. The female quickly assumed her role as attentive mother to her downy duo.

Thanks to committed parents and plenty of food, “Fluff” and “Puff” began to grow and grow and grow.

At five weeks old, they were ready to leave the nest box with a bit of encouragement. “Fluff” fledged with confidence, while “Puff” was a bit reluctant. Good luck to our favorite owl family on the next stage! Thanks for watching and learning with us in 2019. See you next year!