©Bert Gildart: Three years ago I visited the Sonny Bono Wildlife refuge, which is located about an hour drive from Borrego Springs in Anza Borrego Desert State Park. At the time, which was March first, I’d gone there specifically to see the burrowing owls, and yesterday, that was again my purpose.
Essentially, I wanted to see if nesting conditions had changed, and to quickly summarize, little has changed, meaning that burrowing owls — at and around this refuge — survive only because of some help, and because the species is so incredibly tolerant. Put in other words, nest sites are about as unusual as you can find.
Under natural conditions, burrowing owls select burrows created by ground nesting mammals such as prairie dogs and various ground squirrels. But farmers have eliminated all species of mammals that create burrows, and as a result, burrowing owls have to rely on something else.
Three years ago a nesting pair was making use of a discarded Goodyear tractor tire, and I was absolutely astounded to see that an owl was making use of it this year. Only one owl, however, occupied the “nest” so I’m not sure if young had already fledged. Perhaps they had.
Though wildlife managers had set out PVC pipe several years ago, at that time I didn’t see any owls, but this year we saw dozens of pairs at these artificial nests, so help seems to be working. Apparently there are a few owls that are nesting in the old fashion way, i.e. using burrows created by the various ground squirrels.
Burrowing owls are one of the smallest species of owls, standing but nine inches-tall. It has a short tail, very long legs, and weighs but 4 oz. When the owl sees something approaching its home, it bobs up and down a few times, and then dives into its burrow. Here, the owls breed in late winter, and the females lay around 6-8 eggs. Eggs take one month to hatch, and young owls remain in the nest for about 42 days before leaving.