Keeping an eye on his surroundings, including us, this Burrowing Owl stood guard at his burrow’s entrance. We kept our distance, as he kept watching us…to our mutual liking.
We were standing on the edge of a dry, twenty-acre, irrigation excavation in Gilbert, Arizona. My neice, Lori Block Eidson, brought me here to see the Burrowing Owls.
The Burrowing Owl’s status is endangered in Canada, threatened in Mexico and a species of special concern in the United States. They’re protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in all three countries. Protecting a species sometimes involves moving a colony of Burrowing Owls to a more safe and secure location when development threatens their survival.
Burrowing Owls get their name from their preference of nesting sites. The site can be an abandoned prairie dog burrow, but here in Zanjero Park near Phoenix, with a cotton field to the south, a highway to the north and a high school to the east the owls live in single family, plastic, public housing.
With all the natural prairie dog burrows bulldozed, their new home is a five-gallon bucket buried four-feet deep with a six-inch plastic drain tile extending to the surface at a forty-five degree angle. When introduced to their new homes, they adopt the plastic surrondings politely. They seem to be thriving.
Spartan looking, but in keeping with the natural habitat of Burrowing Owls, they enjoy long sightlines for predators and prey alike. When chasing down a scorpion, lizard or beetle to catch by foot, they find the artificial landscape acceptable.
Like the larger owl species they hunt small mammals mostly at night, but it’s normal to see them outside during the day, too. Known to gather dung for baiting their burrow entrances, they eat the dung beetles it attracts.
Poised and ready to exit down the drainpipe at the first sight of danger, this Burrowing Owl’s transition from rural-life to city-life seems to have gone well.