Pima County Master Naturalists Penny M and Joshua R recently volunteered with Wild At Heart’s Burrowing Owl Project. Wild At Heart (WAH) is a nonprofit conservation organization that rescues, rehabilitates, and releases birds of prey. Their Burrowing Owl Project creates artificial burrows for owls and relocates owls from upcoming development sites to safe spaces throughout the region.
Wild At Heart was created in 1993 and was the first program to create artificial underground owl burrows. Bob and his wife “Sam” Fox, founders of WAH, identified a need to build artificial owl burrows in Arizona and began this relocation program. In 2001, Greg Clark became Wild At Heart’s Burrowing Owl Habitat Coordinator who expanded Wild At Heart’s rescue and relocation procedures.
“We are currently in one of the high intake periods where owls are being trapped to remove them from new development areas at a rate of 400-500 per year,” shares Clark. “Last year I relocated 400 Burrowing Owls but we still have owls coming in and we are in a foot race to get more habitat installed so owls can be relocated as fast as possible.”
Volunteers are part of this solution! Wild At Heart burrowing owl events are open to the public. Thousands of volunteers have helped build over 6,000 artificial burrows — providing homes for 2,500+ owls.
Western burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia hypugaea) are charming little owls who get their name from nesting in underground burrows. They incubate and raise their chicks within burrows that they borrow from other species like prairie dogs and ground squirrels. Burrowing owls are vulnerable to predation from a variety of other wildlife and are especially vulnerable to construction and land development projects. The western burrowing owl is the only fossorial owl species in the Americas, and is endangered in Canada, threatened in Mexico, and a species of special concern in the United States.
“Land next to active irrigated farmland is preferred by the owls,” says Clark. “Marana is one of those areas. Most of the owls come from Maricopa and Pinal Counties. Specifically, Buckeye is in the bullseye right now. Perhaps your chapter can help us find more land for relocation.”
If you are interested in helping The Burrowing Owl Project or volunteering with Wild At Heart you can donate, head to their website, follow them on FaceBook, or contact them at info@WildAtHeartOwls.org.