SCE Volunteers Team Up to Build Burrows for Owls
February 2020

​Thanks to a team of Southern California Edison (SCE) volunteers, owls that were displaced because of housing development in Chino, Calif., now can find refuge in artificial burrows built nearby. 

Unlike other owls that roost in trees, the tiny burrowing owls, measuring just 9-inches tall, make their homes in burrows in the ground that often have been abandoned by squirrels or snakes. The owls used to be plentiful in Southern California.

But, their numbers have dwindled as housing development has overtaken much of their habitat, leading California to declare them a Species of Special Concern, which means the species could become endangered.

That’s why 14 SCE environmental staff volunteers teamed up with volunteers from the Pomona Valley Audubon Society to build eight artificial burrows and clear non-native vegetation in a field near Chino’s College Park housing development in hopes of enticing a few of the owls to return.

The SCE team had a connection with these tiny owls. Kara Donohue, SCE’s avian program manager, worked with burrowing owls while in graduate school, and staff biologist Brian Bielfelt has loved them since he was a child. 

The group followed do-it-yourself artificial burrow instructions provided by the San Diego Zoo’s Burrowing Owls Recovery Program, using materials including black perforated plastic drainage hose, chicken wire, a wooden box, sand, and a 5-gallon lidded plastic bucket. The hard part was the work — digging the T-shaped trenches then refilling them after the burrow was installed. 

In addition to providing manpower, SCE also supplied a mini excavator, and SCE excavator operator Randy Oseguera and spotter Jason Carver helped dig the trenches needed for the burrows. Whereas one Audobon Society volunteer said two of the hand-dug trenches took the better part of two days, the excavator did swift work of digging six of the trenches.

Once the trenches were dug, a square of hardware cloth was laid down to provide stability, followed by the wooden box/nest, which was filled with a combination of dirt and sand to replicate a normal burrow.

The drainage hose was attached to the box with two extensions that followed the T-shaped trench to provide two entrances/exits. The bucket with the removeable lid came next. The lid allows easy access for biologists to check on the birds. The trench was finally covered with chicken wire and dirt to hide and protect it from digging coyotes.

Stepping back from the site where the burrows were dug, they were almost invisible to the naked eye. Since owls had previously nested in some now-collapsed burrows nearby, biologists think the little birds will find their way to the new homes.

“These are like luxury condos,” Donohue said. “It’s totally possible they could find this and use them this season.”

She said the project was part of SCE’s effort to be a good neighbor.

“Edison is part of the community, and we always want to help when we can in giving back,” she added.

Read the original story by Energized by Edison writer Mary Ann Milbourn here​.