The Rio Grande Valley is home to an amazing variety of owls, including the smallest owl in the world. Richard Moore introduces us to the fascinating owls of southernmost Texas.
Peering out from a secretive hollow in an ancient mesquite tree, this Eastern screech owl is perfectly camouflaged as it perches on the edge of a cavity waiting for dusk when it will take flight for its nocturnal hunt. With its mottled grayish feathering, the small owl blends in easily with the weathered wood.
Texas is home to more than a dozen species of owls, and deep South Texas has several resident owls that spend the entire year in the region.
While the Screech owl is quite diminutive, the rare Ferruginous pygmy owl is even smaller measuring only some six and a half inches in length. The endangered owls barely edge into the United States in southern Arizona and southernmost Texas with a scattered population living in the Oak Mottes of Kenedy County.
The forested realm of riparian woodlands along the Rio Grande sequesters the smallest owl in the world, as the tiny Elf owl weighs only some 40 grams and is less than six inches in length, no longer than an ebony bean.
The Great horned owl is the largest owl in South Texas, with a wingspan of some four feet, and is a formidable predator armed with powerful talons and a razor-sharp beak. Its so-called horns are actually tufts of feathers.
The resident Barn owl often roosts in old buildings and is quite beneficial as its diet consists primarily of rats and mice.
In the winter, South Texas hosts another fascinating species of owl. A small number of Burrowing owls winter in the area, and this pair frequents a rocky outcropping along the Rio Grande south of Mission.
Like most other owls, Burrowing owls are primarily nocturnal, but this pair seems quite content to bask in the South Texas sunshine as avian winter Texans.