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All in for burrowing owls

Feature Story

​​(Above) ​Ember Turner, 4, helps dad Matt Turner, Environmental Services, clean out an artificial owl burrow.

​​Nearly a dozen volunteers braved below-freezing temperatures Feb. 25 for the annual cleaning of Energy Northwest's artificial burrowing owl habitats. The 10 volunteers, which included EN employees, their spouses and children, and retirees inspected and cleaned the burrows before the migratory owls return to begin their spring nesting. 

Burrowing owls are listed as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need in Washington state; in fact, sightings of the owls outside of Benton, Franklin, Grant and western Adams counties are rare. Contrary to their name, the Western burrowing owl does not dig its own burrows but rather takes up residence in burrows left behind by ground squirrels, prairie dogs, foxes, badgers and coyotes. As habitat for these mammals shrinks so does the available abandoned burrows for the burrowing owls.

Ben Slominski, Technical Services (left) and Tyler Slade, System Engineering, work to clear the entrances of owl burrows.

Energy Northwest partnered with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2012 to install nine sets of burrows near Columbia Generating Station and employees have maintained​ them since 2016. The burrows are managed by the Energy Services & Development Environmental Services team. Each set includes two burrows — one the owls use for nesting and the other where they store their food supplies — and a low perch where the owls watch for predators. Volunteers created each artificial burrow from half of a 55-gallon drum and a 5-gallon bucket serves as a maintenance hatch. A 6-inch tube leading from the drum gives the owl access. The burrows are buried to look like normal animal burrows. ​​

Jane LePage, Environmental Services (left), and retiree Karen Clark collect debris near the owl burrows.

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