This post is also available in: Dutch.
It’s a frequently asked question: what is your favorite animal? Every time I ask myself that question, the answer is different. It is impossible for me to stick too long to a particular species. One day it’s a snow leopard, the next day it’ll be a hummingbird. Today it is the burrowing owl, truly one of the most adorable owls I have ever met. I have a weakness for owls anyway. Not because they are considered the symbol of wisdom, but rather because the animals, with their serene movements and large bright piercing eyes, always leave the impression that they consider us all totally weird. That we should be glad we are allowed a look into their private lives. And I can only concur, actually. Each owl species has its own characteristics and charm. The Barn Owl in Curaçao, with its piercing cry, noiseless floating flight and snow-white plumage on its underside is one of the most illustrious birds of the island. They occur mainly in limestone caves and holes and are not too keen on encountering humans.
Aruba has its own owl, a bird which is not larger than about eight inches, but that is so unique to the island that it is allowed to bear the name Athene cunicularia arubensis. Burrowing owls do not only occur on Aruba, but also on the mainland of Venezuela. But those on Aruba are so special that they belong to an endemic subspecies, a variety found nowhere else in the world in this way, only on Aruba. An extraordinary animal.
Holiday without owls
Two years ago we went on vacation to Aruba, for the first time again in quite a few years. On the list of destinations was the Arikok National Park, where unbelievably positive developments in terms of nature conservation took place in recent years. And the planned visit was of course with a built-in desire to observe and admire a real burrowing owl. That did not happen, unfortunately. The visit to the park was not at the right moment during the day, it was simply too hot. A little bit disappointing, especially since we drove past a location where, according to our guides, some inhabited burrows were located, in which the birds were most likely enjoying their siesta at the time. The holes they dig are not only used for nesting, hatching of the eggs and caring for the youngsters, but also as a ‘bungalow’ during the day, even outside the breeding period.
Workshop with a refreshing twist
Last weekend we visited Aruba again for a nature and environmental education workshop, an activity together with four of the five islands of the former Netherlands Antilles, Bonaire, Curacao, Sint Eustatius, Saba, and of course Aruba. Brought together by the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) we worked towards a common educational strategy. A trip through Arikok was of course on the program, but this time it was not necessary to search for the burrowing owl. During a coffee-break two Shocos, burrowing owls, were spotted while basking peacefully in the morning sun on a branch of an Indju-tree, which was positioned on the edge of a rooi (gully) in front of the park visitors center. Most probably we were treated to a ‘couple’. The encounter was especially fabulous because we could shoot nice pictures of one of the partners, most probably the female. The Shoco is not only a beautiful bird to see, the animal tends to look comical because of the winks that they seem to give while independently closing their eyes and the way they wobble up and down. The animals have very long legs on which they can run quite fast. They are so cute you can only melt emotionally during a sighting. They’re just too cute for their own good, as I said to our fellow workshop members.
Like all owls the burrowing owls are hunters, and feed mainly on large insects, like beetles and grasshoppers.
The meeting with the two burrowing owls refreshed the wonder you always get when an animal touches you emotionally, with its appearance and / or behavior.