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Relocating Burrowing Owls across the State of Arizona


(Athene cunicularia)

These charming little owls live and raise their young underground, so they are at risk of being buried alive during construction projects.


The Burrowing Owl is the only known owl that lives underground, and is especially affected by land development and construction.

Burrowing owls are not able to dig their own burrows, but create homes in existing underground spaces. Deserted squirrel  burrows, kangaroo rat mounds, coyote, fox, skunk and badger dens provide homes for the owls. "Burrowing Owls are adorable animals that are entertaining to watch, and they catch insects and rodents that most people would rather not have around." (AZ Fish and Game Brochure - Development and Burrowing Owls in Arizona )

Small in size and active both day and night, this little owl is vulnerable to mammals and other birds, and now construction in the Southwestern U.S. has taken a major toll on their populations. The Burrowing Owl is Endangered in Canada, Threatened in Mexico, and a Species of Special Concern in Florida and much of the Western US.

As Arizona continues to grow, one of the greatest challenges is to minimize the impact of growth on displaced wildlife, and the use of artificial burrows is now helping to counter these threats.



In 1993, Bob and his wife "Sam" Fox, founders of Wild At Heart (WAH), began constructing the first artificial underground burrows in Arizona, and then began relocating rescued and rehabilitated Burrowing Owls into these new homes.

In 2001, Greg Clark became Wild At Heart's Burrowing Owl Habitat Coordinator.

Greg has been instrumental in revolutionizing burrowing owl conservation in Arizona through the implementation of innovative relocation procedures developed by Wild At Heart.

With Greg's assistance, the WAH prototype program expanded to include the rescue and relocation of Burrowing Owl colonies threatened by development.



Wild At Heart burrowing owl events are open to the public. Thousands of children and adults throughout Arizona have helped to build approximately 5000 artificial burrows, creating habitat for over 2000 burrowing owls. Additional habitats are continuing to be built, and many more owls are scheduled for relocation.

Captured owls are cared for by WAH volunteers for a minimum of 90 days -- 60 days at the WAH facility, and an additional 30 days at the new relocation site. This transitional period is necessary to break a Burrowing Owl's bond with its former habitat.

Permits from U.S. Fish and Wildlife must be obtained prior to owls being trapped and relocated.

Once completed, the artificial burrows provide new, permanent homes for families of burrowing owls that have been displaced by development of their desert habitat.



Improving the percentage of owls which are retained at a relocation site is an ongoing priority.

In pursuit of this goal, WAH continues to refine the various aspects of Burrowing Owl Relocation, and the design of artificial burrows and release tents.

Success and Guideline Study

Wild At Heart collaborated with Arizona Game and Fish – Research Branch in an extensive study to first, analyze the success of Burrowing Owl relocation, and secondly, to determine the scientific guidelines for expanded relocation work.

The study sought to determine the effectiveness of the Wild At Heart habitat models for use throughout Arizona, the US, Canada, and Mexico by other states and countries.

These guidelines are available to land managers and wildlife habitat restoration groups to determine the suitability, and the probable success, for Burrowing Owl relocations in both urban and native habitats.



In 2008 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director and US NABCI Committee Chair, Dale Hall, honored Wild At Heart with an award for their unparalleled contributions to bird conservation at the local and regional levels.

<< read more about our awards>>


An Excerpt From NABCI and Bird Habitat Joint Ventures Honor Wild At Heart for Outstanding Contributions to Bird Conservation

"Wild At Heart has established cooperative relationships with municipalities and agencies to identify potential relocation sites, and to obtain assistance with artificial burrow excavation, when mitigation strategies to protect the threatened Burrowing Owl become necessary."

"It has also provided assistance to the Arizona Bird Conservation Initiative to promote Burrowing Owl conservation on private and public lands."

<< read more on the NABCI website>> 


Help Construct Burrowing Owl habitats
Contact Steve Thomas >>

Burrowing Owl - Stacy

You can help build
burrowing owl habitats
across the State of Arizona!

As part of this program, volunteers help build new homes for displaced burrowing owls.

The work consists of some dirt shoveling, on-site assembly, erecting temporary tents over the new burrows and later, taking down the tents.

Contact Steve Thomas for
more information about
helping to build burrows. .

If you have seen an active burrowing owl, record the owl's location on the "e-BUOW"
online map.

Click here, and place a marker on the map to indicate a burrowing owl sighting.

It's a very easy way to possibly
save an owl's life.

A Nestling Burrowing Owl

When is an owl in trouble? The owls prefer agricultural fields, canal banks, vacant lots, undisturbed natural desert grassland and open space near commercial buildings.

Some land disturbance in these locations could displace or even kill an owl.

Any site where mammal burrows are present that has planned canal maintenance, road maintenance or any upcoming earth-moving operation should be surveyed by an expert for Burrowing Owls before work begins.
AZ Fish and Game