An Owling We Will Go…
Arizona should head your list of destinations to visit if you appreciate owls. Our state has 13 different species: Great Horned, Barn, Western Screech, Burrowing, Long and Short Eared, Saw-whet, Whiskered Screech, Ferruginous Pygmy, Northern Pygmy, Flammulated, Elf and Mexican Spotted Owls. A few of these owls migrate south during the winter but the majority live here year-round.
Most Arizona owls are creatures of the night, preferring the crepuscular hours to hunt for insects, rodents, snakes and lizards. One exception to this behavior is the Burrowing Owl, a ground dweller who is active during daylight hours. These cute and comical owls can be observed hopping around grasslands hunting their favorite insects and small rodents in the middle of the day, making them somewhat easy for birdwatchers, owl worshippers or the casual tourist to spot. When feeling threatened, to escape the desert heat or to sleep, the Burrowing Owl retreats to his below ground hideaway.
Burrowing Owls are often found in agricultural areas where water, food and space for their extensive burrows provide the ecosystem they need to thrive. Once upon a time they established themselves in abandoned prairie dog, tortoise or ground squirrel homes but loss of habitat has dramatically affected the populations of underground dwellers to include the Burrowing Owl. It’s no surprise that the recent housing boom and related urban development has threatened this endearing bird despite their protected status.
The Burrowing Owl’s Village
Fortunately, volunteers across the United States are developing ways to help the Burrowing Owl proliferate. An example of this can be found at Zanjero Park, a 20 acre, nondescript park located near the intersection of the southeastern loop of 202 and Lindsay Road in Gilbert. Zanjero Park is the home of Burrowing Owls that have been rescued from construction sites and with volunteers’ tender loving care acclimated to man-made, underground homes. These homes, constructed of plastic tubing and buckets, are strategically designed to protect the owls and their young from predators plus keep them cool during the hot, desert days.
If you’re looking for an almost guaranteed chance of seeing Burrowing Owls in Arizona without hiking or driving for miles, visit Zanjero Park. There is ample parking, the trail is paved and the distance to the owls is short. Binoculars are recommended although not a necessity. Hats and sunscreen are essential as there is little shade along the walk. Although you might be within 25 feet of the owls, cameras with a telephoto lens are a must in my opinion. I recommend mornings and evenings as the best times for spotting owls and this is especially true during the hot summer months. Dogs are not permitted. Feeding and other behaviors that interfere with the owls’ natural lifestyles should be avoided. Remember, the owls are protected!
Other nearby places to search for Burrowing Owls include Veterans Oasis Park which also features man-made burrows, Rio Salada Audubon Center in Phoenix, Scottsdale Community College and the areas surrounding Higley Road Ponds and Rousseau Sod Farms in Maricopa County.
Be Kind to Burrowing Owls and ALL Wildlife:
- Keep a respectful distance and do not try to touch. Wild animals are exactly that, wild and unpredictable. Animals that injure people are removed or euthanized because of people’s behaviors. Act responsibly!
- Avoid using insecticides and rodenticides.
- Do not use sticky tape to eliminate bugs. Many kinds of wildlife, including owls, can be severely injured or die if they stick to the tape.
- If you find injured wildlife make no assumptions about the care they need. Call, and if possible, transport to your local rehab center where they know how to care for different animals.
- Donate to or volunteer at local wildlife and rehab centers.
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Photo credits: © Gilbert S Grant & Nicole D Reiber