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Protected Species? Call in the Guard!

A burrowing owl spotted early in the morning shows a curious look as his photo is taken here outside the 162nd Fighter Wing’s command building.  The endangered burrowing owls are known for being social creatures and are not easily scared by human activity. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Debany Wood, Communications Squadron)

A burrowing owl spotted early in the morning shows a curious look as his photo is taken here outside the 162nd Fighter Wing’s command building. The endangered burrowing owls are known for being social creatures and are not easily scared by human activity. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Debany Wood, Communications Squadron)

Burrowing owl habitat.  His photo is taken here outside the 162nd Fighter Wing’s command building. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Debany Wood, Communications Squadron)

Burrowing owl habitat. His photo is taken here outside the 162nd Fighter Wing’s command building. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Debany Wood, Communications Squadron)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- The162nd Fighter Wing not only protects Southern Arizona with F-16 fighting falcons in the sky, but service members are also ensuring the safety of the local birds that burrow below ground. A species of endangered burrowing owls was discovered outside Building 1 at the Tucson Air Guard base about a year ago, and the Environmental Management Office (EMO) here is raising awareness because the owls' burrows are easily unnoticed.

"These owls are very social and they won't skitter away," said Cheryl Settle, 162nd Fighter Wing environmental program specialist, "but they live underground so it's easy to step on their burrows without noticing."

The owls hunt primarily between dusk and dawn and avoid the midday heat, leaving their burrows exposed to passersby during the day. Wing members built a small, knee-high fence to protect the owls' burrows and a metal warning sign to ensure gawkers observe from a distance.

"In areas around Southern Arizona, the owls are being relocated due to construction," said
Settle. "We want to protect them and keep them here. They're our very own environmental resource project now."

Settle said the owls have been here just over a year and are good for keeping the rodent and insect populations down. Only one male owl has been spotted; however, there are multiple burrows which support the EMO's theory that there may be another owl.

The western species of burrowing owl is currently protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and is listed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a "national bird of conservation concern." Burrowing owl populations are decreasing in size because human development is causing a loss of their nesting habitats. They are listed as threatened in Mexico, and endangered in Canada.