By Morrigan DeVito
Tucked away in a dirt lot near Gilcrease Orchard on the northwest side of Las Vegas are Burrowing Owls at the Rainbow Owl Preserve. Maintained by the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and Red Rock Audubon Society (RRAS) volunteers, the Rainbow Owl Preserve is an urban sanctuary for these charming desert dwellers who are challenged by urban expansion. Volunteers at the Rainbow Owl Preserve, including some from Get Outdoors NV and UNLV Audubon, have worked to create artificial burrows, plant native plants, and monitor the burrowing owls to study their breeding success.
According to the Nevada Department of Wildlife, Burrowing Owls are a state-level priority species because of increased urbanization, which causes habitat fragmentation and restricts Burrowing Owls to small parcels of land, like at the Rainbow Owl Preserve, within the larger urban landscape. USFWS receives more calls about Burrowing Owls compared to any other urban wildlife besides waterfowl, showing just how close Burrowing Owls are to us, even if they are small and well camouflaged in the desert soil.
Burrowing Owls prefer open, dry soil and either dig their own burrows or repurpose old burrows from other animals like tortoises and ground squirrels. Although they are fierce predators in their own right, chasing after insects, reptiles, and small mammals, Burrowing Owls have to keep an eye to the sky for hawks and falcons that might eat them. Domestic cats are another big predator for Burrowing Owls in urban areas, which is one of the reasons why RRAS suggests keeping cats indoors as part of our Bird-friendly Community initiative. These little owls (only about 7-10 inches in height) are family-focused and monogamous, meaning they stay with the same mate and live together with their young in their burrows. Both parents take care of the young until they are old enough to leave the nest, which is usually about 40 days after hatching. But before it’s time to leave their parents, you can find young, fluffy burrowing owls testing out their wings and waiting for their parents to bring them food outside of their burrows.
Keep an eye on the RRAS calendar to stay informed about future volunteer events at the Rainbow Owl Preserve or head over there yourself to try and spot some Burrowing Owls.
Artwork by Myranda Bair