Online Viewers Get a Rare Window Into Birds’ Unique Lives Underground
Fans of San Diego Zoo Global’s animal cams have another reason to stay glued to the screen today (Monday, April. 15, 2019), with the launch of Burrowing Owl Cams—a new live video feed from the San Diego Zoo Safari Park that lets viewers watch a pair of off-exbihit burrowing owls as they establish and manage their burrow. The new Aviary Cam and Burrow Cam are now viewable online at sdzsafaripark.org/cams/burrowing-owl-cams. Along with being able to watch the birds’ above-ground activities, viewers are also led into the dark to witness what goes on inside these birds’ underground home, where eggs are incubated and chicks are raised.
“Our ability to monitor the nesting behaviors of these owls will aid in our overall conservation efforts for the species,” said Susanne Marczak, senior research croordinator in Recovery Ecology at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “This camera will not only allow the public to see into their lives, but it will also provide researchers and keepers an intimate insight into the underground nesting activities of the owls—allowing them to apply new knowledge to future conservation breeding and management decisions.”
Western burrowing owls are small, long-legged birds that live in open landscapes of North and South America. Unlike other owl species that live in trees, these owls make their homes in abandoned California ground squirrel burrows, prairie dog burrows or rattlesnake dens. They use their long legs to further excavate these underground tunnels, creating enough room to store food and lay eggs.
As burrowing owl populations continue to decline throughout western regions of North America, the state of California has listed them as a Species of Special Concern due to multiple factors, including continued habitat loss. Burrowing owls are grassland specialists and require short, open grassland to thrive. Unfortunately, intact native grasslands are rare in Southern California, and the suitable habitats that remain are severely impacted by increased human development.
San Diego Zoo Global takes part in a multi-agency burrowing owl conservation strategy that has been developed over the past eight years. The forward-looking plan includes monitoring the existing population while searching for suitable habitats to establish new colonies throughout San Diego County. Conservationists are working to help birds that could be impacted by planned development by establishing additional secure breeding nodes in the county—reducing their risk of local extinction.
“We are really excited to add this new tool to help our understanding of the owls and aid in their conservation,” said Colleen Wisinski, conservation program specialist in Recovery Ecology at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. “Not only can we learn more about their nesting behaviors, but we can also connect people all over the world to these endearing and charismatic little raptors.”