ADOT turns to wildlife center to save owls from construction

May 11, 2018, 6:47 PM
(Screengrab/Arizona Game and Fish Department)...
(Screengrab/Arizona Game and Fish Department)
(Screengrab/Arizona Game and Fish Department)

PHOENIX — The Loop 202 (South Mountain Freeway) will add 22 miles to the Valley’s highway system, but it’s taking away the homes of some protected owls.

That’s why the Arizona Department of Transportation called on the Wild at Heart wildlife rehabilitation center.

Wild at Heart is a Cave Creek-based nonprofit the specializes in rescuing birds of prey and has been working to save burrowing owls since the 1990s.

The burrowing owl, which has protected status under Arizona law, is the only owl that lives underground.

“They take over an existing burrow that has been created by a burrowing mammal or erosion,” Wild at Heart executive director Bob Fox told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

The burrows can be 2-7 feet deep and 5-30 feet long, Fox said. That’s why they can be at risk during construction projects in their habitat.

“They live underground, they nest underground, and there’s no way of determining if there is in fact an owl in a nest or not just by visual inspection,” Fox said.

But specialists like Wild at Heart know how to find the owls by looking for signs such as feathers, droppings and food debris left by the burrows.

“If we don’t see a bird but we think it might be there then we mark it and we come back and recheck,” Fox said.

Fox said ADOT was proactive in in identifying areas of the 202 project that might displace burrowing owls and contacted Wild at Heart to safely relocate the birds.

“I think we have recovered several dozen owls from path of the new extension,” Fox said. “At this point I think they have all been relocated to safe sites in other areas.”

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ADOT turns to wildlife center to save owls from construction