We were delighted to hear that Aruba's endemic burrowing owls (called “shocos” by locals) were voted in as an official National Symbol by parliament on September 23rd, 2014. That means the birds and their habitats will now be protected by law.
So what's so special about these little creatures? For one, unlike typical owls, they don't nest in trees, they prefer to inhabit holes in the ground- preferably pre-dug by something else- though they have been known to dig out their own homes. Living on and under the ground however leaves them open to more predators than their counterparts who reside above; they are easy prey for the invasive boa constrictor that doesn't even belong on this island (brought in by human error), and over-development and pesticide use in regions where they nest has also been a threat to their existence. They are not totally without defences however, the young emit a sound like a rattlesnake when anything comes too close to their burrows, and the adults are pretty crafty at hunting- they can hover like a helicopter, swoop down from above, and can run quite fast along the ground due to their long, gangly legs. They typically eat small lizards, rodents and large insects, but they also enjoy the fruits of the prickly pear cactus which grows abundantly on this island.
Shocos are great fun to watch- cute and quirky, especially when winking, blinking and bobbing around. But they can also be quite stately and elegant when they take to the skies as depicted in the portrait above painted by local artist Armando Goedgedrag entitled “Shoco Ballet”. The best places to spot some are the wilds of Arikok National Park or at the Tierra del Sol Golf Course where they are a common sight having adopted the greens as their own perfect refuge.
This particular subspecies of burrowing owl is endemic to Aruba, and can't be found anywhere else in the world. And the drive behind getting these rare little birds protected by law was spearheaded by Aruba Birdlife Conservation, and members of the Arikok National Park Foundation, as well as concerned local nature lovers and visitors alike. The recent success in their efforts brings to mind the famous quote by Margaret Mead, “Never underestimate the power of a few committed people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Masha Pabien (big congratulations) Aruba for protecting your natural heritage for future generations to enjoy.
Portrait by Armando Goedgedrag