Female Owl Goes on 150-Mile Trek for Mate
TUCSON, Ariz. A female ferruginous pygmy owl took a 150-mile crisscross trek across the Sonoran Desert to search for a mate, a journey about seven times longer than any previously recorded by state researchers monitoring the endangered birds.
Researchers lost track of the owl early last year once it entered southern Arizona's Tohono O'odham Indian Reservation and a radio transmitter mounted on her back died.
"We assume that when they move this far that they are not encountering males," said Dennis Abbate, one of six state biologists who tracked the female owl. "This is an unusual bird, quite robust and quite healthy. It was certainly finding plenty of food. It probably suggests that there are very few males out there, at least in the areas it traveled."
As far as researchers know, the owl is still flying around, looking for her elusive mate, if she hasn't already found him.
Her robust behavior and lengthy flight suggest she's tough enough to still be alive and mean the odds are excellent that she has since found a mate, Abbate said.
Biologists familiar with the bird's journey said it shows both downsides and upsides for the fist-sized birds.
The female owl's inability to find a mate underscores the plight of Arizona pygmy owls, biologists say. The state has just 18 recorded adult pygmy owls.
The good news is that if this bird can fly so far, so can others, researchers said.
Hope still exists of finding mates for three male owls that have lived the single life on Tucson's northwest side since 2003, said Abbate and Scott Richardson, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist.
These long-distance mates could come from Mexico or extreme southern Arizona.
Since the owl's ability to fly long distances is likely much greater than previously known, it appears outside owls have the potential to bolster populations farther north and expand the owl's current range.
Source: Associated Press