A family affair: Former base now home to burrowing owl family

  • Published
  • By Scott Johnston
  • Air Force Civil Engineer Center Public Affairs
In the midst of a bustling environmental cleanup project at the former McClellan Air Force Base in Sacramento, Calif., a family of burrowing owls has carved out a serene existence on a small protected piece of land.

Burrowing owls, which on average are slightly larger than the American Robin, are considered a species of concern by the Department of Fish and Wildlife and are protected. But even though they aren't on the Endangered Species List, the Air Force Civil Engineer Center is still making sure nearby environmental cleanup activities aren't impacting them.

This past spring, the Air Force constructed a detour to minimize disturbance and prevent trucks from driving too close to the owls' nest.

"The owls are very adapted to the existing levels of disturbance in the area," said Molly Enloe, AFCEC natural resources project manager. "With the protected area the Air Force created, the owls are doing very well."

Individual burrowing owls have been seen around McClellan for years, but this nesting pair is the first to be documented. The pair has established a nest and successfully hatched four very active owlets despite the hustle and bustle of a construction project a short distance away.

The tiny, but long-legged burrowing owl is found throughout open landscapes of North and South America, making its home among grasslands, rangelands, agricultural areas and deserts. They nest and roost in prairie dog and ground squirrel burrows as well as culverts and drain pipes.

Unlike most owls, burrowing owls are often active during the day, but do most of their hunting from dusk until dawn, when they can use their night vision and hearing to their advantage.

Even with trucks and heavy machinery rumbling away nearby, thanks to protective measures put in place by the Air Force, life goes on nearly uninterrupted for McClellan's family of owls.