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    Tiny Burrowing Owls Find Safer Homes With The Help Of These Scientists

    Rebecca Dzombak


    Colleen Wisinski has a tough job: Relocating tiny, adorable owls before their grassland homes are taken over by urban development in California.

    Developers are required by the state to safely remove western burrowing owls—a federally protected subspecies—from their land. But there’s often little guidance on how to do that, and even less information on what happens to the birds in their new homes.

    Despite their name, western burrowing owls—found across arid grasslands from Canada to South America—do not burrow, they borrow. The 10-inch-tall birds hole up in abandoned burrows made by prairie dogs and ground squirrels, hunting insects and small mammals during the day and nesting with up to a dozen of their chicks at night. Because they don’t dig their own homes, their owl’s adopted burrows are crucial to their survival; lose the host species who digs the hole, lose the owls, as has been the case with prairie dog declines throughout the Great Plains.

    western burrowing owl Photo Credit Wikipedia

    About 95 percent of California’s original grasslands have been destroyed since European settlers arrived. This habitat loss is the main reason the yellow-eyed, long-legged birds have rapidly declined in the state, according to Wisinski, of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance. While the owls’ rattlesnake-rattle mimicry may deter predators such as badgers and coyotes, it does nothing to deter a bulldozer. (Read why birds matter, and are worth protecting.)

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