CalPortland Constructing Industry’s First Burrowing Owl Habitat

CalPortland said it is now “perched” as the rock products’ industry’s first company to safely construct a burrowing owl habitat within one of its mining sites. The habitat is designed to support the burrowing owls – a Species of Concern in several states including Arizona – in a safe, comfortable, environmentally efficient manner.

In the absence of suitable homes created by ground squirrels, prairie dogs, desert tortoises, new agriculture areas and development, the burrowing owl habitat has diminished. These little feathered friends required some assistance to ensure a prolific future.

Rebecca Kervella, CalPortland’s environmental specialist for Arizona, hatched the idea of building a habitat at one of the company’s sites to help the small, sandy-colored owls with bright-yellow eyes. The idea was received with much enthusiasm and support by not only Scott Hughes, CalPortland’s environmental manager for Arizona, but also from the company’s management.

In cooperation with Arizona-based raptor rescue Wild at Heart, the Arizona Game and Fish Department, and Greg Clark (manager of the burrowing owl program), the plan is turning into reality. Ground breaking occurred on Nov. 30, 2016, and excavation of 12 burrowing sites began in an area the size of a football field. On the morning of Dec. 10, 2016, the organizers and a crew of 48 volunteers constructed 64 burrows for this master planned community of subterranean dwellers.

Burrowing owls have been known to nest in piles of PVC pipe and other lairs unintentionally provided by humans. They live in dry open, treeless areas with low, sparse vegetation. The owls can be found in deserts and steppe environments, on golf courses and agricultural fields, so CalPortland’s mining site turned out to be a perfect habitat. Additionally, burrowing owls eat bugs, rodents and other pests, therefore the location should provide quite the smorgasbord for the new residents.

Female burrowing owls commonly travel and find several mates over their lifetime, while male owls usually remain in their territory courting other females. Upon filling the nest with eggs, hens stay in or near the nest burrow until the chicks fledge, while males stand guard at a nearby burrow or perch. Owlets play-hunt by jumping on each other, on prey brought by their parents, and on other objects around the burrow.

In mid-March the owls will be released into their new burrow community. The burrows will be covered by a tent for one month. During this time, the owls will be fed “mousicles,” which are mice and a piece or two of dog food frozen in a cube of ice, while they are getting comfortable in their new homes.

After a month, the tents will be removed and the owls will be free to come and go as they please. The habitat organizers are optimistic that other burrowing owls in the area will quickly take up residence in the community. Burrowing owls are considered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to be a Bird of Conservation Concern at the national level, in three USFWS regions, and in nine Bird Conservation Regions.

This conservation initiative strongly, noted CalPortland, supports the company’s value proposition of being an environmental leader in the rock products industry. 

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