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The Foxes and the Owls

Article Date: 2006-02-06   Source:   Comments: 0

Prescott, Arizona, U.S.A. - In 1990, Sam and Bob Fox established their own rescue-and-rehab operation, Wild At Heart. It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, specializing in owls and other birds of prey.

Wild At Heart handled 155 birds that first year, including several burrowing owls. When it was time to release the tiny underground dwellers, Sam didn't feel comfortable just leaving them in the desert. The owls live in burrows abandoned by rodents and other small critters.

Suitable ''holes'' weren't always easy to find.

''At least dig a trench and put some plywood and dirt over it,'' she instructed Bob. He did some research and found a better way.

Today, 16 years and many better ways later, Bob and Sam Fox are recognized burrowing owl relocation experts. With U.S. Fish and Wildlife approval, they rescue entire colonies of burrowing owls from construction sites and other undesirable locations and re-establish them in custom-built homes in better areas.

It's groundbreaking work - literally. After trapping the owls at a site, Bob - who has long since left the movie business - starts digging. He excavates each burrow to make sure he has every owl. The birds then spend the next 60 days in the large aviaries - there are 37 of them - on the Foxes' one-acre property. If released any sooner, these migratory birds would fly back to where they came from. Right now, Wild At Heart has 90 of them waiting for release.

Meanwhile, at a new site deemed suitable for the birds, a crew of volunteers goes to work installing a network of artificial burrows: plastic nesting boxes connected to corrugated PVC piping sunk four feet below ground. Next, they construct large temporary screened-in enclosures set over the new burrows. The owls will be sheltered and fed there for 30 days as they get accustomed to their new digs. Finally, they bring in the owls.

With construction booming in the Phoenix area, the Foxes' owl relocation services are in demand. Burrowing owls are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. For developers, that means either move the owls or move the project. Most opt to call the Foxes. So do others interested in protecting the little insect-eating owls. Defenders of Wildlife, for example, is working with Wild At Heart to adapt their relocation methods for use in California, where burrowing owl populations are declining at an alarming rate.

Between relocating owls and caring for sick and injured raptors, Sam estimates she and Bob have the equivalent of three full-time jobs each. No days off, no vacations. ''For us it's not about travel, cars, boats and houses, it's about making a difference,'' says Sam. ''This is the path we have chosen. It's rewarding, and it's a lifetime commitment.'' For the Foxes, that's the better way.

Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from and placed here for comment. is not responsible for the accuracy of any information in this article, and does not necessarily agree with the author's opinions.

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