Biologists raise owls by the barrel
Artificial burrows might help turn the tide on declining burrowing owl numbers in Washington
Volunteers are helping state and federal biologists encourage more of the owls to nest by expanding a network of artificial burrows that have been successful in encouraging owls to nest in Oregon.
About 50 burrows – which consist of plastic barrels, flexible plastic piping and a bucket – have been installed in the Mid-Columbia Basin, plus 24 on the Hanford Reach National Monument.
“We’re trying to install them close to occupied sites so owls that are successful breeding and producing offspring will make note of it, and the offspring will make use of them the following spring,” said Mike Livingston, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist.
A 50-gallon barrel is cut in half and a porthole carved out of the top before it is placed in the ground. A flexible plastic pipe – 6-8 inches in diameter and at least 8 feet long – that serves as the entrance to the burrow is attached to the barrel. The other end is positioned in a slight depression on the surface.
The pipe is curved to prevent light from entering the barrel, which serves as the nesting box. A two-gallon bucket is filled with dirt and positioned over the top of the porthole. It can be removed to clean out the barrel each year after owls are done with the nest.
The design appears to be predator-proof, as the pipe is too narrow to allow a badger or coyote to squeeze inside.