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PACIFIC SOUTHWEST REGION: Western burrowing owls take to new homes at Floyd Lamb Park
California-Nevada Offices , November 14, 2013
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About a dozen volunteers work together on a cluster of artifical burrows at Floyd Lamb Park on the northwest edge of Las Vegas. The Las Vegas and Sheep mountain ranges, on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, provide the backdrop.
About a dozen volunteers work together on a cluster of artifical burrows at Floyd Lamb Park on the northwest edge of Las Vegas. The Las Vegas and Sheep mountain ranges, on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge, provide the backdrop. - Photo Credit: Dan Balduini/USFWS
Red Rock Audubon Society volunteers attach the flexible drainpipe to the irrigation box that will serve as an underground burrow for Western burrowing owls. The box and drainpipe are then placed in a three-foot-deep hole.
Red Rock Audubon Society volunteers attach the flexible drainpipe to the irrigation box that will serve as an underground burrow for Western burrowing owls. The box and drainpipe are then placed in a three-foot-deep hole. - Photo Credit: Dan Balduini/USFWS
With the other end of the drain pipe inserted into a cinder block, the entrance to the burrow is situated upslope from the box and just below the surface. Once eveything is in place, the entire assembly is burried and the site is returned to a more natural appearance.
With the other end of the drain pipe inserted into a cinder block, the entrance to the burrow is situated upslope from the box and just below the surface. Once eveything is in place, the entire assembly is burried and the site is returned to a more natural appearance. - Photo Credit: Dan Balduini/USFWS
The only part of the burrow that is visible is the entrance. The opening might not look entirely natural, but the owls don't seem to mind.
The only part of the burrow that is visible is the entrance. The opening might not look entirely natural, but the owls don't seem to mind. - Photo Credit: Dan Balduini/USFWS
Western burrowing owls outside their new home -- an articifial burrow at Floyd Lamb Park.
Western burrowing owls outside their new home -- an articifial burrow at Floyd Lamb Park. - Photo Credit: Richard Cantino/Red Rock Audubon Society
Adult owls with an offspring near the entrance to their new burrow at Floyd Lamb Park.
Adult owls with an offspring near the entrance to their new burrow at Floyd Lamb Park. - Photo Credit: Richard Cantino/Red Rock Audubon Society

 

By Christiana Manville

When agencies and volunteers team up to provide habitat for a species, all of those involved feel a source of great satisfaction. However, the real reward comes when that species uses the new habitat and actually flourishes as a result. That’s exactly what is happening with the population of Western burrowing owls in a part of the Las Vegas Valley as they use new artificial burrows made of flexible pipes.

Since 2010, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program (Service) has worked with the Red Rock Audubon Society (RRAS) and the City of Las Vegas to enhance burrowing owl habitat at Floyd Lamb Park. The park is located on the northwestern edge of the city. In the fall and winter of 2012 and 2013, volunteers and Service personnel installed artificial burrows for owls inhabiting the area. Artificial burrows are an important tool for burrowing owl conservation efforts in areas where natural burrows have been lost to urban and suburban development. The western subspecies of burrowing owl that occurs in Nevada cannot dig its own burrows, but does use burrows dug by other animals such as desert tortoises and kit foxes.

Three volunteer work days at Floyd Lamb Park took place in October and November 2012, and in January of 2013. The Service and the City of Las Vegas had plenty of help on these three days, as 42 RRAS members and other volunteers assisted with the construction and installation of nine artificial burrow clusters. Each cluster consists of three separate burrows, with the burrow openings facing each other and spaced 10 to 20 feet apart. Additionally, four artificial burrow clusters installed in 2007 near the park entrance were dug up and replaced with new burrows using the current design.

Each artificial burrow consists of a hard plastic irrigation box that serves as the nest chamber; a 12-foot-long section of 4-inch wide flexible plastic perforated drain pipe becomes the entrance tunnel; and a concrete block that is placed at the exposed end of the pipe to protect it from digging predators. The drain pipe is joined to the box and buried three feet underground. The length of flexible pipe is sloped gently toward the surface and the end of the pipe is fitted into the open center of the concrete block to form the burrow entrance.

To make it easier to dig into the rocky desert soil, a volunteer used his backhoe to dig the three-foot-deep holes. At the start of each work day, volunteers were shown how to assemble and install the artificial burrows. Burrow installation can be tricky. The nest chamber is placed three feet underground and it must be level. The entrance tunnel has to be gently sloped and the tunnel opening should lie just below the ground’s surface to give the burrow’s entrance a natural appearance. Once backfilling of the soil around the burrows is completed, the soil is raked to erase the backhoe tracks.

The proof, they say, is in the pudding — by the time the burrowing owl breeding season began, owls were using four of the new artificial burrow clusters. The owls wound up using two of the new clusters as nest burrows and two of the new clusters as satellite burrows during the breeding season. Satellite burrows will be used by male burrowing owls during the breeding season and by juveniles after they emerge from the nest. In August and October, 2013, after the breeding season ended, owls were seen using eight of the nine new artificial burrow clusters.

It was a very good 12 months for owl reproduction in the park. The average brood size was five young; the highest number of offspring recorded in the park since monitoring began in 2008. Five of the six adult pairs successfully reared their young, producing 21 fledglings total. The fate of one nest remains unknown as the adults and chicks disappeared prior to fledgling. The burrow was intact, so it is possible that the owl family moved to another (satellite) burrow cluster that the owl monitor was unable to locate. While predation is a possibility, it is unlikely that all the owls would be taken during the same week. However, by October, another owl was using that burrow.

The project could not have been completed without the dedicated RRAS members and volunteers who donated approximately 350 hours of hard work to the effort. In addition to installing the burrows, the volunteers removed materials from a dozen old burrows and picked up trash in the park before they departed.

Christiana Manville is a Biologist with the Nevada Fish and Wildlife Office's Southern Nevada Field Office in Las Vegas.

 


Contact Info: Daniel Balduini, 702-515-5480, daniel_balduini@fws.gov



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