Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Patrols Increased after Rare New Mexico Burrowing Owl Shot

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Patrols Increased after Rare New Mexico Burrowing Owl Shot

Article excerpt

Julie Luetzelschwab and her lens captured a picturesque scene on the desert plateau outside of Santa Fe, N.M., June 27 - a pair of burrowing owls peaked out of the high dry grass and cacti.

Three days later, the birdwatcher came across another scene she wished she hadn't. She found one of the owls dead, and missing a limb. An X-ray showed shrapnel in the bird's left wing and shoulder blade.

In response to the reported killing of the owl, the US Bureau of Land Management has deployed more officers to patrol the Caja del Rio plateau.

Officials acknowledge it will be near impossible to find the killer. Nevertheless, the killing of the protected bird highlights its declining population due to human's prairie dog and ground squirrel control programs.

"Our job on public land is to protect them to the best of our ability," said Donna Hummel, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Land Management. "And we do that with a lot of help from the community."

"There are lots of eyes and ears and people that care about wildlife here in New Mexico," she said. "And (the shooter's) illegal actions are not going to go unnoticed."

The long-legged burrowing owl, which cowboys referred to as the "howdy" bird, lives in open grasslands, prairies, farmland, and airfields. It favors flat, open ground with short grass or bare soil, and lives in the Southwest, California, and Florida, according to the National Audubon Society. It can migrate further north throughout the west to breed.

The owl owes its namesake to its habit of burrowing at the entrance of prairie dog and other animal holes, and will nest there too. As Ms. Luetzelschwab saw, the owls often fly in pairs in a display of courtship.

Though there are an estimated 10,000 pairs of owls in the United States, the bird's population has declined, largely at the hands of humans. Control programs for prairie dogs and ground squirrels have consequently destroyed the homes of burrowing owls. …

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