Wild at Heart Burrowing Owl Project

Wild at Heart Burrowing Owl Project

Written by Deb Petrich (C1) and Kathy McLin (C3) with contributions from Penny Miller.

Photos taken by Kathy McLin.

On a sunny winter’s day in January, a group of 10 Pima County Master Naturalists (PCMN) and other volunteers, embarked on building 13 small release tents over artificial burrows at Wild At Heart’s Martin Farm site in Marana.  Wild at Heart (WAH) is an Arizona-based Raptor Rescue Organization and their Burrowing Owl Project relocates burrowing owls rescued from construction or land development sites across the State of Arizona.  Burrowing owls are federally listed as endangered species in Canada, threatened species in Mexico, and protected by varying laws in 9 US states. Reasons for their decline include habitat destruction, climate change/drought/fire, and farm pesticides which kill their insect prey.  For the Martin Farm site this day, 26 Burrowing Owls were being relocated from Phoenix and released in our 13 newly constructed tents by Greg Clark, Burrowing Owl Habitat Coordinator, from WAH.  Each tent contains 2 burrowing owls, 1 male and 1 female. 

For the next 6 weeks, PCMNs Jean Boris (C2), Penny Miller (C2), Debbie Petrich (C1) with Kathy McLin (C3), and Kathe Sudano (C3), in addition to 3 other volunteers, who were trained on feeding the owls mice on boards and changing out water, will return on their specific day to do so. Important information such as number of mice remaining on boards, number of owls observed, and any external disturbances around the tent from possible predators is recorded in each tent site notebook by that day’s volunteer. In addition, Greg is notified via email with this daily information so as to alleviate any potential issues with the owls. 

Around week 5 the tents will be removed and the owls will be free to remain in their burrow or seek out another home.  In our training, Greg advised us that none of the owls relocated to the Martin Farm site in the past has tried to return to Phoenix. Penny Miller may address this concept of “Home Site fidelity”, the tendency of burrowing owls and other relocated wildlife to return to a previously occupied place or nesting site, in a future blog post. 

Other PCMNs who volunteered to help build tents in the morning session were Sam Wilber (C4), Jenna Marvin (C3), Dre Hoerr (C3), Kim Stone (C2), Marlene Shamis (C4) and Carly Pierson (C6). See the end of this post for several photos from this very rewarding experience and especially of the burrowing owls.

Thank you Wild at Heart for your dedication to saving these charming little owls and inviting us to be a part of their relocation. Their mission (from their website): ‘Wild At Heart is a rescue, rehabilitation and release center for birds of prey. Its primary purpose is to rescue injured owls, hawks, falcons and eagles; rehabilitate them; and, ultimately, release them back into the wild. Its guiding mission is to do what is in the best interest of these magnificent birds.’

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