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Groups in Arizona working to release protected burrowing owls back into the wild

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Posted at 7:50 PM, May 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-17 23:17:17-04

Two pairs of protected burrowing owls were released this past weekend to Mayo Clinic to help them live in a temporary habitat before transitioning back to the wild.

A physician with Mayo Clinic, researchers with Arizona State University, and local rescue group Wild at Heart Raptors, helped build a temporary, artificial burrow habitat to help the captured owls recover.

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According to Wild at Heart, the group of volunteers has helped build over 6,000 artificial burrow habitats and provided homes for over 2,500 burrowing owls.

ABC15 has learned that the two pairs of burrowing owls lost their home because of a new development going up in Buckeye.

The groups worked together to build the artificial burrows with the hope that they’ll want to stay.

“We really hope that our new neighbors will provide an opportunity for staff and for patients to step out of the mind's default mode of worry, anxiety, and business, and into the present moment,” said Dr. Catherine Chong.

Chong is a researcher who studies headaches for Mayo Clinic, but she’s stepping outside of her expertise to help save these animals.

Mayo Clinic has walking trails at its Phoenix location that patients, doctors, and employees are able to use and the plan is to provide a view of nature if the owls decide to stay.

If the owls decide to make their artificial burrow their home, Mayo Clinic hopes to provide some type of signs or live camera feed to share with staff and patients.

Wild at Heart has a section on its website about the protected animals that become victims of new construction in the southwestern part of the U.S.

They say the species is the only known owl that lives underground, making it especially affected by land development and construction. They are not able to dig their own burrows, but create homes in existing underground spaces, like in burrows and dens from other animals.

"The Burrowing Owl is endangered in Canada, threatened in Mexico, and a species of special concern in Florida and much of the Western US," the website says. "As Arizona continues to grow, one of the greatest challenges is to minimize the impact of growth on displaced wildlife, and the use of artificial burrows is now helping to counter this threat."

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Wild at Heart tracks sightings of burrowing owls, which you can find here.

Nicole Grigg at KNXV first reported this story.