Thursday, October 23, 2008

U.S. Army builds owl condos for small birds

In northeastern Oregon, the U.S. Army is working with local volunteers, biologists and military personnel to create "owl condos," or artificial burrows, for dozens of Burrowing Owls on the grounds of Umatilla Chemical Depot in Hermiston.

From a press release:

The depot has enjoyed more than 64 years of relative isolation in the dry Shrub-steppe of northeastern Oregon since it began operating in October 1941 on the eve of World War II. That isolation has had a somewhat unintended result, creating a nature preserve, where today the Army actively protects wildlife and the environment on the depot. The Army also partners with other agencies to protect or develop habitat for various species. ...

The Burrowing Owl population in the United States is declining. It’s listed as a national “Bird of Conservation Concern” in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) Pacific Region and other parts of North America. It’s also listed as “endangered” in Canada and “threatened” in Mexico. In 2006, under terms of the international Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), the U.S., Canada and Mexico jointly selected the Burrowing Owl as a “Species of Concern” due to loss of habitat. The international choice of the bird highlighted the need for Burrowing Owl habitat protection and development. ...

FWS Biologists, UMCD Environmental staff, and volunteers partnered to construct new owl burrows in 2008 from modern materials that mimic desirable features of those abandoned badger dens—including the prerequisite darkness and dirt floors. The artificial burrows have several advantages including easy access points for banding or counting owls, plus predator-proof construction. Future plans include addition of a low-light video camera.
Many more details appear at the press release link above. Birders might like to know that the depot sits near Umatilla National Wildlife Refuge and Cold Springs NWR, not far from McKay Creek NWR and the city of Pendleton.

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