Burrowing Owls, that’s who. Burrowing owls are small (9 inch tall), day-active birds that live in the abandoned burrows of ground squirrels and other mammals. They are highly social and eat primarily insects and mice. Once common in the Phoenix valley, these birds are disappearing rapidly due to development. Oftentimes, developers are not even aware that there are burrows and they excavate over them. Fortunately, the birds can be trapped and successfully relocated to safe sites; however, these sites are becoming increasingly rare (Downtown Owls).
The City of Phoenix, along with Wild at Heart and Audubon Arizona (funded by Toyota TogetherGreen) have been relocating these displaced owls for the last couple of years in the Rio Salado Restoration Habitat Area. Volunteers build burrows out of PVC pipes and 5 gallon buckets for them, and they are gradually re-introduced into their new burrows.
We went to see the owls this weekend with our friend, Lawrence Polk, Parks Special Operations Supervisor, for the City of Phoenix, and we got a guided tour of the burrows, which are on a bluff overlooking the Salt River. Each burrow is covered over with rocks to protect it and has a perching post outside.
The birds are not very shy but you are not supposed to get within 15 feet of them. The burrowing owl is federally protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Burrowing Owls are listed as Endangered in Canada and Threatened in Mexico. In Arizona, they are considered a Species of Concern.
They are always on the lookout for any possible danger. I thought maybe the hawk, above, was scoping out the owls but, later, when I looked at my photos, I realized it was a Turkey Vulture, looking for carrion, so the owls weren’t in danger from him.
We saw several of the owls and I took about 150 photos but they all kind of look about the same, I noticed, so I won’t show you all of them.
There are a few other locations in the area where new habitats for the owls are being built, including Zanjero Park in Gilbert.