by Morrigan DeVito
While many of us stayed in the AC to escape the 2021 heat wave, burrowing owls had no such luxury. Out at the Rainbow Owl Preserve, burrowing owl parents hunted for beetles, scorpions, lizards, and mice in the sweltering heat to feed their families. But the prey they need is getting harder to find because of lack of water. The less food parents bring back to the nest, the harder it is for baby owls to survive.
Drought has hit our burrowing owls hard. According to the U.S Fish and Wildlife’s monitoring data at the Rainbow Owl Preserve, 2021 was the worst year of baby owl success rate. Meaning, there was only a 50% survival rate for baby owls. Compared to the previous four years of monitoring, this is the highest mortality rate we’ve seen. 2021 was also the driest year on the monitoring record, so the burrowing owls hardly felt the relief of rain.
Like us, burrowing owls try to stay as cool as possible during the hot summer days. Their burrows keep them nice and shady and they prefer to hunt at dawn and dusk. However, they are flexible on hunting times depending on food availability. While the parents are away, fuzzy chicks squabble with their siblings underground, waiting for their next meal. But if parents can’t find enough food, not all of the chicks will survive to adulthood.
The Rainbow Owl Preserve provides us with valuable information on how burrowing owls are faring in this drought. The data collected is crucial to understanding the ecological effects of the drought not just on burrowing owls, but their prey and the whole ecosystem as well. Come out to the preserve and see the owls! You can help spread the word about burrowing owls and drought in Las Vegas.