The Suitcase Lady


February 25, 2009, 12:21 am

Obviously, I am having an owl year, and I’m delighted.

Scientifically, an “owl year” occurs when the huge tundra loving snowy owls are short on prey (lemmings and snowshoe hares) in their far northern habitats. These ghost-like owls come south in search of munchies, causing bird watchers in the northern tier of America much joy.

I spotted my first snowy sitting on a telephone pole a few weeks ago just as dawn was breaking. I’m always on the lookout for raptors but was shocked when this one turned out to be white with black flecks and a big facial disc.

My second owl in a month was much more minute, in fact, only three inches tall and the world’s smallest owl. The elf owl was ensconced in a natural habitat at Tucson’s remarkable Sonoran Desert Museum, which, despite its name, is one of the top zoos in America.

Elf owls hang out in holes in saguaro cactuses. The openings are made by Gila Woodpeckers who build their nests in the cavities and abandon them when their young fledge.

Elf owls dine entirely on arthropods which are captured in flight. Moths are a special treat. When water is scarce, these little owls can get needed moisture from eating juicy beetles and other buggy prey. Scorpions and centipedes are also on their menu, and they remove the stinger before feeding scorpions to their young.

I’m grateful I never had to say to my kids, “Eat up all your scorpion, dears, so you will grow up to be strong and healthy.”

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