4-H Club installs burrows for local owl species

4-H Club members, with gear in hand, get ready to help install local burrowing owl habitats in conjunction with the University of California Desert Research & Extension Center in Holtville.

HOLTVILLE – The University of California Desert Research & Extension Center concluded the final segment of its education and outreach campaign on the burrowing owl at the Farm Smart Ranch in Holtville with the installation of ready-made burrows by local 4-H clubs.

A grant was released in the summer of 2016 by the Imperial Valley Community Foundation to fund a burrowing owl education program. 

Experts estimate roughly 70 percent of the entire burrowing owl population of California resides here in Imperial Valley.

“All year long, we have been focusing on doing burrowing owl outreach throughout the community,” said Stacey Wills, manager of the Farm Smart Program.  “We’ve worked with approximately eight to ten thousand kids through our field trips to the farm with our classroom program.”

The kids sat on golden hay-bails during the back country wagon ride, along the 255-acre property of gleaming crops and produce, to a location that recently had a cement-lined canal taken out which created a displacement of owls in need of a new home.

“We teach the kids how to select a spot that is next to the field, but not somewhere that will have a lot of tractors coming through or foot traffic,” Wills explained.

Equipped with shovels, rakes, and aspirations of perpetuating the ecosystem, the children installed a pre-constructed burrow, (an irrigation box with two holes on the side, piping going into it, and two cinder blocks on the end) placed the box into the ground, covered it with dirt, and scattered crickets near the entrance to attract the owls.

“It’s great that the grant provided the means to teach people about these burrowing owls,” continued Wills.   

Along with the classroom project and informational and 4-H partnership workshops, various signs along the Farm Smart Tours Trail have been posted to educate the visiting public about the burrowing owls which can be spotted throughout the property. 

The remaining funds from the grant will be devoted to a Conservation Garden on the front lawn of the ranch which will be the final resource of the burrowing owl grant education and outreach endeavor, according to Wills.