Burrowing Owls at the Living Coast

Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia)

BO1Burrowing Owls are year-round residents of southern California, Central Mexico and South America. As their name suggests, they nest in holes in the ground, either ones they have dug or borrowed from tortoises, prairie dogs, ground squirrels, or armadillos. You can see Burrowing Owls at the Living Coast Discovery Center, between Raptor Row and the Shark and Ray Experience and — if you’re lucky — in the wild.

Burrowing Owls are generally active at dusk and dawn, but sometimes at night also. They are comparatively easy to see because they are often active in daylight, and can be surprisingly bold and approachable. Living Coast guests have often commented that our Burrowing Owls seem as curious as they are shy, darting into their burrows but returning quickly for another inquisitive look.


BO3Some of our Burrowing Owls serve as Animal Ambassadors, appearing on site and at various functions throughout San Diego with their human handlers who are more than happy to answer questions. They can also be found on twitter @LCDCowlsBurrow.

Burrowing Owl CloseDid you know? The Burrowing Owl has also been referred to as: Ground Owl, Prairie Dog Owl, Rattlesnake Owl, Howdy Owl, Cuckoo Owl, Tunnel Owl, Gopher Owl, and Hill Owl.

The Former Clapper Rail

Light-footed Clapper Rails become Ridgway’s Rails

Do you know this biLight_steppingrd? Until recently, we called them Clapper Rails or Light Footed Clapper Rails. But no longer. They are now classified as Ridgway’s Rails.

This has to do with a split in species. California’s three subspecies of Rallus longirostris (Clapper Rails) recently became subspecies of Rallus obsoletus, which is given the English name Ridgway’s Rail. It has three subspecies: yumanensis (Colorado River area), levipes (southern California), and nominate obsoletus, (San Francisco Bay area).

So the birds you see in San Diego County marshes are now Rallus obsoletus levipes or the levipes subspecies of Ridgway’s (formerly Clapper) Rail. LCDC will be referring to them as Light-footed Ridgway’s Rails. We have one in our Shorebird Aviary that doesn’t care what you call it.

Confused yet? Here are a few things that haven’t changed: Ridgway’s Rails (like the former Clapper Rail) are no less endangered; they are still birds with rail thin legs who live in marshes and make nests of Eelgrass; and their call still sounds like clapping. The new common name refers to ornithologist Robert Ridgway who was so revered in the community that modern ornithologists still say, half-jokingly, “rule number one is: Ridgway was right.”

You can see Ridgway’s Rails at the Living Coast Discovery Center, in the Shorebird Aviary and, if you’re lucky, on one of our wild birding adventures. Our birding tours depart the Living Coast Front Desk at various times on weekends, and are included with admission. The best explanation of the name change comes from Dave Quady and the Golden Gate Audubon Society, which you can read here: Farewell Clapper Rail, hello Ridgway’s Rail.

Did You Know? Black Oystercatcher

Black Oystercatcher’s Birthday: June 16 is Sweet Sixteenth

Black OystercatcherHave you seen our Black Oystercatcher? If you visit the Living Coast’s Shorebird Aviary, you’ll know him by his distinct black body, large orange beak, and loud call. Oystercatchers use their beaks to pry oysters and limpets off of rocks. They also eat fish and invertebrates.

Oystercatchers can be found from Alaska to Baja California. Did You Know— their feathers get lighter the farther south you find them?

If you visit the Living Coast on June 16th, make sure to visit the Black Oystercatcher in the Shorebird Aviary – and wish him a Happy Birthday (or Hatching Day) — it’s his Sweet Sixteenth! Here’s a link to that distinct Oystercatcher call.

Did You Know? Ruddy Ducks

Ruddy Ducks (Oxyura jamaicensis)

ruddyduckRuddy Ducks spend most of their time on the water. They are fast fliers but not very maneuverable in the air, so it’s easier for them to swim and dive to escape predators.  Ruddy Ducks breed in wetlands and reservoirs from southwestern Canada through the western United States and Mexico, as well as in scattered sites in the eastern United States and on the Caribbean islands.  

Both adults and ducklings eat aquatic insects, crustaceans, zooplankton, and other invertebrates, along with small amounts of aquatic plants and seeds. You can see our Ruddy Duck in the Shorebird Aviary at the Living Coast Discovery Center.

Ruddy Duck 2Did you know?  A naturalist, speaking of Ruddy Ducks in 1926 said, “…its curious nesting customs and ludicrous courtship performance place it in a niche by itself… Everything about this bird is interesting to the naturalist, but almost nothing about it is interesting to the sportsman.”