A Hoot for the Hooties
One time my wife and I traveled to the west coast of Florida after a convention, just to see what that part of world was like. While driving around a neighborhood looking at houses (because that's what realtors do), we stumbled upon a roughly 10-by-10-foot plot of land on a street of large homes with large lots. We thought maybe it was for a new sewer line. As we drove to the next block, we found the same thing, and then again on the next block. Then we saw a tiny sign on the ground that said, "Do not disturb burrowing owls!" Have you ever seen a burrowing owl? They are the cutest damned miniature creatures you might ever come across. We watched and laughed as they hopped in and out of holes like rabbits with wings, turning their heads in that nearly 360-degree way and chirping warnings to their fellow little buddies after seeing us.
Utah has 13 species of owls: flammulated, western screech, great horned, snowy, northern pygmy, elf, burrowing, spotted, great gray, long-eared, short-eared, boreal and northern saw-whet. I used to go out and hunt (not with guns) birds of prey for Hawkwatch International as a weekend hobby to help count migrating birds. Our state has one of the five major migrating paths of birds flying from North to South America and back again. Twice a year, you can climb hills or drive to certain locations and watch thousands of them fly to summer or winter destinations—an avian highway like nothing you've ever seen before. I know it sounds totally geeky, but being able to pick out a ferruginous from a Swainson's hawk is just cool to a bird-lover like me. I once found a nest of three owlets out in a canyon by Grantsville that looked as if they were wearing Ninja Turtle masks. So damn sweet.
Owl lovers will be glad to know that humans have won a small battle to help save a nesting area here in Utah, just up the hill from Ruth's Diner, known as "Owl Meadow." The Great Salt Lake Audubon Society and the Willard L. Eccles Charitable Foundation have teamed up with various organizations from around the country to raise $400,000 to buy the habitat land. They needed $250,000 more to complete the purchase, and, luckily two other donors pledged $50,000 if the county pitched in to protect the 4.6 acres from development of roads and buildings. So here's a big hoot for the hooties!