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Tiny burrowing owls find safer homes with help of Valley nonprofit

Wild at Heart Raptor Rescue has saved thousands of owls from possible death.
Credit: 12 News

PHOENIX — Wild at Heart Raptor Rescue is a Valley nonprofit organization currently working to save a species of concern in the Phoenix area.

Bob Fox founded the group with his late wife, and since the early 1990s, they have been caring for all kinds of birds of prey. Lately, Fox has focused on the burrowing owl.

Burrowing owls are small birds of prey that use burrows dug by other animals, often prairie dogs, for their living spaces. They live underground where the temperature is more or less constant no matter the time of year. They come out both day and night to eat mice, bugs, and other small meals.

Farmland is perfect for these birds, but with Arizona’s decades-long drought and increased development around the Valley, farmland is going away, and things like houses, warehouses, and data centers are taking their place. When developers build, they dig up the earth and plow it flat, which has the potential to bury the owls alive.

That’s where Wild at Heart comes in.

Fox traps owls by night, emptying their burrows and then destroying them so other owls can't use them. The owls are then relocated to artificial burrows, dug by Wild at Heart's Greg Clark. Clark has been working with Wild at Heart since the 1990s and says the nonprofit has saved thousands of owls from possible death.

Clark creates the burrows and then introduces the owls, placing tents over the habitat for weeks at a time, forcing the owls to get used to their new homes. 

With any hope, they'll like their new burrows or find others nearby, and they won't try to return to their old homes, which developers will bulldoze if they haven't been already.

This week, Clark removed the tents from a new burrow at the City of Phoenix's Solid Waste Transfer Station at 27th Avenue and Lower Buckeye Road. The station now has two adult pairs, and Clark hopes that both couples will mate and create many owl families around the transfer station

Clark and Fox believe the burrowing owl's survival is a key part of healthy ecology in the area. Time will tell if their efforts are successful.


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