An Owling We Will Go…
If you appreciate owls Arizona should be on your list of places to visit. 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 often comical owls can be observed hopping around grasslands hunting their favorite insects and small rodents in the middle of the day. This makes 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 her below ground hideaway.
Burrowing Owls are about 8 – 10 inches tall. The male is slightly heavier and has a longer wingspan than the female. In Arizona ground squirrels are a favorite menu item. They also eat insects, other small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. Mating occurs in early spring; Burrowing Owls may nest in groups or alone. Females usually lay 6-12 eggs and care for the owlets for about 6 weeks. Their natural lifespan is 6-8 years.
Burrowing Owls are often found in agricultural areas where water, food and space for their extensive burrows provide the ecosystem they need to thrive. Preferred habitats include deserts, farmlands, grasslands, golf courses and sometimes vacant lots in urban areas. 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 all underground dwellers. It’s no surprise that the recent housing boom and related urban development has threatened the Burrowing Owl despite their protected status.
The Burrowing Owl’s Village
Local places to search for Burrowing Owls include Veterans Oasis Park which 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. Zanjero Park in Gilbert was once home to Burrowing Owls but due to recent construction, loss of habitat and safety concerns the owls have been relocated and the burrows covered.
Be Kind to Burrowing Owls and ALL Wildlife
- Keep a respectful distance and do not try to touch or feed. Wild animals are exactly that, wild and unpredictable. Animals that injure people are removed or euthanized because of people’s behaviors. Act responsibly!
- View wildlife from a distance that does not interfere with their natural behaviors.
- If you witness behaviors that may put Burrowing Owls or other wildlife at risk, contact the local wildlife agency or regional U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service office in Phoenix. Additionally, contact Burrowing Owl Conservation Network to report your concerns about Burrowing Owls’ safety.
- 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
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