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Native Arizona bird species, the Pygmy-Owl, in danger of being lost due to encroachment

With the encroachment of urban living, the Pygmy-Owls’ habitat is receding. However, conservation efforts are underway to re-establish the bird before it's too late.

PHOENIX — As more and more people move to Arizona, the landscape has changed quite a bit over the past 100 years. While that growth may be good for the economy of the state, Arizona is now on the verge of losing one of its native species of bird.

The desert dweller

Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl has been calling Arizona home since long before freeways and suburbs dotted the land.

“Pygmy owls are Arizona residents just like you and me,” explained Tara Harris, the Director of Conservation and Science at the Phoenix Zoo. “They even used to live as far north as the Phoenix area.”

The Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl prefers habitats like Mesquite trees and hollowed-out cacti. With the encroachment of urban living, the Pygmy-Owls’ habitat is receding.

“But now they only found in southern Arizona, and their future in the state is really in doubt,” said Harris.

Saving the Pygmy Owl

The Phoenix Zoo has partnered with Wild At Heart, a bird of prey rescue, to re-establish the Pygmy-Owl before it’s too late. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to list the Cactus Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl as threatened species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

The Phoenix Zoo has worked with conservation partners since 2018 to breed and reintroduce the Pygmy-Owl back into the wilderness. In 2021, Harris and her partners released the first round of owls at two sites in southern Arizona.

“Last year we bred Pygmy-Owls and produced 17 chicks,” said Harris. “And now we're working to release them back to the wild with our conservation partners.”

Educating the public

Pygmy-Owls raised at the Zoo that were not successful in the breeding program, such as two owls named Pat and Porgie, will be on display at the Zoo to help educate the public.

“We always work with our conservation partners to determine how we can best use our skills here at the Phoenix Zoo to help conserve native species in Arizona.” said Harris.

Pygmy-Owls can now be found along the Arizona Trail at the Phoenix Zoo. Harris hopes that one day Pygmy-Owls will once again be a common sight in the deserts of Arizona.

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