Birds of El Paso County

Give a HOOT!

 

Doug Haring

I know I have written a couple of columns on the local Burrowing Owls. It turns out that it was a good thing

I found them, both for my enjoyment and for the owls’ well being. After several weeks of photographing

them, it was brought to my attention that their home might be in danger. I received a call from this

paper’s council meetings that there was talk of plans to build on the site.

My love of birds runs deep. My truest passion is for the raptors. I was in Heaven when I found a

family of Burrowing Owls very close to my home. Not only were the owls close to home, but they

became very friendly and accepting of me showing up for pictures. My heart dropped when I got the

news that a portion of this specific site is scheduled to be built on. Well, I give a hoot so I jumped into

action. I immediately started making phone calls to see what could be done.

Burrowing Owls and their habitat are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This act

covers many different aspects of migratory birds. In many cases it is illegal to even possess a feather

from a migratory raptor. Most raptors are protected under this law even if they do not migrate.

Most migrating raptors will return to the same area year after year and in some cases, the grounds

that they nest on are protected. In the case of the Burrowing Owl, protecting the owls and developing

land can work together. I want to thank the City of Fountain for recognizing this as a potential issue

and being willing to learn as much as they could about these tiny owls. All it took was my phone call

to the city’s planning department and the next day Deputy City Manager Todd Evans and Planner

II Gabby Serrano met me on site to see the owls for themselves. They were not aware of the owls

nesting on this property and they were more than willing to do everything they could to ensure no

harm would come to the owls. We were even lucky enough for one of the owls to come out of the

burrow so they could see for themselves. I wasn’t surprised to see them fall in love with these amazing

little owls, as well.

After some research, we found some steps to take to help ensure their safety. Burrowing Owls do

just that, they burrow underground. In most cases, they use existing Prairie Dog holes. This alone can

help in finding the owls’ burrows. Most often, if there are no Prairie Dog colonies in the area, you

will likely not have Burrowing Owls. Unfortunately, most Prairie Dog colonies are on flat wide open

space which is prime land for development.

I found a document put out by the Colorado Division of Wildlife “RECOMMENDED SURVEY

PROTOCOL AND ACTIONS TO PROTECT NESTING BURROWING OWLS.” This document gives

some great advice on how to survey these colonies for Burrowing Owls. A visual on the owls is the

only sure way to know. Spending a little time using recorded Burrowing Owl calls can get them to

come above ground. The fact that the owls migrate means you have to use this technique only when

the owls have migrated back to our area for mating. Typically, the owls can be found between May

and October. If owls are found on the proposed building site, one of two things must happen. First,

you either have to wait to start construction until after October or maybe even into November, when

the owls migrate south for the winter. Second, the construction must be at least 150 yards away from

the owls’ burrowing site and a fence must be put up to secure the area.

In this case, I believe the breaking of ground won’t start until after the owls migrate south. When

the owls return next year, they will simply find a new prairie dog colony. There is no way to remove

the owls once they have found a burrow. Burrowing owls will start mating as soon as both male

and female arrive. If Burrowing Owls are found on a site to be developed and the development is

closer than the 150 yards, the developer must wait until after November 1, or they will be subject to

a federal fine.

If you happen to know of any nesting sites of migratory birds on grounds that are to be developed,

GIVE A HOOT and step in to help. Most developers do not want to harm animals like this. They just

simply don’t know and most would do whatever they can to help.

If you are concerned about a site to be developed and you are not sure yourself, feel free to email

me! Happy birding!


Doug Harling

 

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