Looking for the Little Owl in the Ground

After the first solar-powered GPS transmitter was put on a burrowing owl for our research in January 2017, my life and my coworkers’ lives have been engulfed with tracking burrowing owls all around Southern California.

The Burrowing Owl Recovery Team has been tracking burrowing owls to see what happens when their habitat is disturbed or destroyed from different types of development or land use changes. The team wants to learn where they go and how successful they will be in surviving and reproducing after adapting to their new surroundings. 

The team has worked in the Coachella Valley, Imperial Valley, different parts of Western Riverside, and Otay Mesa. The new technology of a lighter GPS transmitter helps us identify right where the owls go and how long they stay in each location. The GPS transmitters are not perfect by any means, so the team has had to put boots on the ground to find owls that have gone “offline” so to speak.

We also use camera traps to track individuals once we know they have settled in a particular area. With the GPS data, camera info, and observations, we have seen burrowing owls use all kinds of different areas.

For example, we have seen them using old irrigation pipes of different sizes and shapes, drainage pipes on the side of buildings, old paintball warzones, culverts, road barricades, shrubs, the international border fence, and tractor trailers to name a few. Sometimes the areas they move to are easy to access, and sometimes they are extremely hard.

Many times, I have found myself talking to a land owner that is wondering what I am doing in the area and explaining that I am just looking for a little owl that lives in the ground.

One thing that really sits in my mind after tracking burrowing owls for almost 2 years is that the life of a burrowing owl is extremely hard. There are predators everywhere from the air to the ground, and there are less and less good burrows and decreasing areas to hunt for a good meal.

With all the new information we are gathering through our research, our team can really understand the outcomes to different circumstances that are affecting burrowing owls not only in Southern California but around North America. We hope to bring to light what burrowing owls need before and after their habitat is altered, so the right plans can be put into place to make sure they survive but also thrive in the areas that are left for them.


Citizen Scientists

How do I join this opportunity?

Burrowing Owls

kcarmignani's picture

Hi Charles,We hope to have our burrowing owl citizen science component up and running on Zooniverse by this spring. In the mean time, you can "warm up" on our WildWatchKenya project at https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/sandiegozooglobal/wildwatch-kenya. There will be fresh photos to classify on that project in the next couple of weeks. Thank you for caring about wildlife!

Help with burrowing owls project

I am very interested in helping with part of the burrowing owls project as a volunteer. Corinne Sylvestre and Lori Scott in Volunteer Services have my resume and other related documents. Please advise. Thanks.

Burrowing Owls

kcarmignani's picture

Thanks for your interest! The project should be live on the Zooniverse platform this spring. Stay tuned.

Burrowing Owls in Escondido

I have a "case" here in Escondido, just a few months ago there was a Burrowing Owl on a path here that I would see every night here until the city kicked some homeless people that were camped out along the flood control canal out of the area. then the city came in with bulldozers and just plowed the camps to the ground. not only was this unethical and down right shady to destroy thew few belongings of a homeless person, but they are devastating what little bit of habitat these birds along with other species are left with.

I am not condoning the homeless camps and the garbage they create but I have to say I cannot understand the approach the city has taken in dealing with this situation. But this is a matter for an entire different organization. So Back to the focus, Burrowing Owl and the habitat destruction.

I hope you could have someone come and assess the situation here and maybe then we can propose the city go about dealing with this sort of scenario with a different approach.

Perhaps hiring the California Conservation Corps. to come to these locations and removing the garbage left over from these Camps by hand allowing the Owls and Squirrel population to remain healthy if it even is in the first place and if it isnt then bring it back to the healthy condition it should be in.

Anyhow I there are also Bobcat in the area Ive fallen in love with as well. Just last summer there were 3 adult Bobcats in the area and sadly this number has dropped down to just 1 adult Bobcat siting in the past few months. One was reported seen in a dumpster in a nearby industrial zone, a friend told me it looked as though it had been struck by a car and tossed into the dumpster. Heartbreaking. The female has just vanished, not sure where she may have gone, I worry she could get shot because she isnt afraid of people. Though she was fun to view because her lack of fear she would hunt right in front of myself and my dog, I fear the worst has likely happened for her. the only one left is a young male I call Bowe. He is reddish in color and his hind legs are bowled.

Anyhow, I can go on and on but I will refrain. Thank you for the amazing work your team is doing. You dont get the credit you really deserve.

Please look into this situation it is running low on time. there is a road the city plans to put right through the area. I would be more than happy to meet with anyone on your team who would like me to point this area of concern out.

Kind Regards,


Add new comment