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New homes for the burrowing owl: volunteers create nest sites for a displaced species.

Volunteers create nest sites for a displaced species

HELPING THE homeless takes on new meaning with the Burrowing Owl Alliance. The group was formed to create new nest sites in California's Santa Clara Valley when urban sprawl paves over this owl's favored habitat--the flat, grassy, open spaces also loved by developers.

"We know the owls are on the decline," says alliance coordinator Dr. Lynne Trulio. "In six Western states (including California), the bird has been put on the list of species of special concern--a prelude to endangered species listing." But according to California fish and game officials, not enough data on owl populations exist to offer them the full protection of endangered species listing. The first statewide census has just begun.

This tiny, dun-colored owl once was found throughout the West in prairie and desert scrublands. Unlike other owls, it is active during the day and feeds more on insects than rodents. And rather than dig its own home, it prefers to take over a prairie dog's or ground squirrel's--and will eat the first tenant if necessary.

The alliance was formed last year as a cooperative effort of volunteers of Save BOTH (Burrowing Owls and Their Habitat), and Pacific Gas & Electric Company, the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, the Humane Society of Santa Clara Valley, and the city of Mountain View. In the long run, it hopes to help concerned citizens work within their communities to coordinate owl-saving efforts.

The city of Mountain View got the ball rolling by putting in 20 burrows on a 150-acre site at The Shoreline At Mountain View, a city park. The owls moved right in and nested successfully in their man-made homes. The alliance was then formed to continue the work at other sites that are also ideal for owls and not open to development, such as landfills and utility rights-of-way. As a result, more new burrows were installed on PG&E land in Santa Clara County.

Building the homes is not difficult--two volunteers with pick and shovel and inexpensive construction materials can install one in a morning. Atop a small rise, they dig an 8-foot-long trench with a 90[degrees] bend near the nest box (the bend keeps light from the nest, as the birds prefer). They then put down a closed tunnel with a 4-inch opening (too small for predators), and a 1-foot-wide nest box. Tunnels can be wood, concrete pipe, or flexible drainpipe. Nest boxes can be wood or sturdy plastic with a top so predators can't dig them out. Materials are donated, and volunteers provide the labor.

For help starting a similar project, write to Dr. Lynne Trulio, Burrowing Owl Alliance, The Shoreline At Mountain View, Box 7540, Mountain View, Calif. 94039.


Use binoculars to check grassy open areas of urban vacant lots, airports, parks, golf courses. You can see an active nest in a cutaway display near San Diego, at the Chula Vista Nature Interpretive Center. The center is open, free, 10 to 5 Tuesdays through Sundays; for directions, call (619) 422-2473.
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Title Annotation:Environmental Action; Burrowing Owl Alliance
Author:Finnegan, Lora J.
Date:May 1, 1992
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