Monday, April 1, 2013

Bighorn Owl

Absaroka Mountains.  April, 2013

The Bighorn Owl (Bubo Ramicus), a distant cousin of the more common Great Horned Owl, is limited to an extremely narrow range in the Absaroka Mountains of northern Wyoming. 

Still common in the late 19th century, the Bighorn was pushed to the edge of extinction by the confluence of two almost fatal threats. The first was a diet which consisted almost completely of the black-footed ferret. When ferret numbers plummeted because of distemper outbreaks in prairie dog towns, the Bighorns retreated to the Absarokas and switched to the Golden Marmot as their primary source of protein.  

Secondly, they were hunted mercilessly for their horns, which were the rage during the roaring twenties as gold-plated pendants for flappers. The sharp reports of  males clashing in the high cirques of the Absarokas made them easy prey for horn hunters. 

Once again they were saved by an almost preternatural ability to adapt.  As hunting restrictions  were established across the west, the Bighorns adapted their mating contests to elk hunting season.  The echoing reports of elk hunters blasting away at migrating elk herds from Yellowstone provided excellent sonic camouflage for the racket created by their mating collisions.

Soon their numbers rebounded to the current small, but stable, population.

Works Cited:
de Bon, A. U.  Rarus Avii of the Intermountain Basin and Range. Toronto: Fieldnotes Press,    1948.  34.

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