When is a burrowing owl like a prairie dog?

So I was riding my bike Saturday morning with Eric. It was hot. Hotter than last weekend, when the nice west wind and cloud cover brought a noticeable (not strong, just noticeable) coolness to one or two shady areas along the ride. This morning there was no such thing. It was hot.

Anyway, the heat reminded me that we were still in or near the dog days of summer, which I wrote about earlier, in connection with the moon. The Latin for dog days, of course, is diēs caniculārēs. (I inexplicably left that out of my post on the Dog Days moon.)

In any event, our bike route takes me, not by chance, through the portions of FAU’s campus that still serve as home to a small population of Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia.

I’m not sure that there’s a strong etymological connection between “burrowing” (cunicularia) and “of or relating to dogs” (caniculares), but the two words are mighty similar. And when you’re riding your bike through the heat associated with one of those words and you’re looking at the other,well,  the link is forged, and off you go. It’s not even an “unhappy association of ideas,which have no connection in nature,*” because, make of it what you will, it really does seem that A. cunicularia is more visible  during the diēs caniculārēs. It might just be that they still have young owls around the burrow to watch out for; it might be that they actually enjoy the heat.

And there’s a further connection: in most of the Burrowing Owl’s range in the United States (except here in Florida, of course), the owls frequently make use of prairie dog (Cynomys spp.) holes for their homes. Below is a picture of C. ludovicianus from Wikipedia for those of you who don’t know what a prairie dog looking out of its hole looks like:

A black-tailed prairie dog at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., looks out from a system of burrows, characteristically scanning the horizon. On average, these rodents grow to between 12 and 16 inches (30 and 40 cm) long, including their short tails.

Kind of similar to the Burrowing Owl, no?

Here in Florida, with the exception of the rare bird that has access to an abandoned gopher tortoise burrow, the owls tend to dig their own. I’m thinking that’s because Florida scrub sand is a lot easier to dig in than that thick prairie grass, and no one I’ve read offers a contradictory explanation.

Whatever the case may be, the answer to the question in the title of this post (when is a burrowing owl like a prairie dog?) is: all the time, sort of. Except in Florida. But particularly more so during the dog days of summer. Whenever they are.

*I refer you to John Locke by way of Laurence Sterne. The quote appears in Volume 1, Chapter 4 of Tristram Shandy, in which the eponymous hero makes oblique reference to the fact that his mother, whenever she heard his father winding up the clock in the hall knew to get herself all wound up as well.