Aspiring Eagle hopes owl project takes flight
Article Date: 2006-09-24 Source: http://www.yakima-herald.com
By James Joyce III
Yakima, Washington, U.S.A. - It's no field of dreams, but Lukas Brooksby helped to build it. Now he remains hopeful the burrowing owls will come.
In his quest to become an Eagle Scout, the 16-year-old Brooksby oversaw the
building of two artificial burrows in hopes of preserving the small population
of burrowing owls spotted two years ago just outside Moxee on the Hoeger
While the aim of the Eagle Scout project is to do something that gives back to
the community, it's also designed to show leadership. And that's where the real
Brooksby, a junior at Selah High School, has high-functioning autism. Generally, those diagnosed with the condition have difficulty with social interaction, which is a necessity when leading a project.
While animals have long been an interest for Brooksby — several of his merit
badges as a Boy Scout were earned dealing with animals — he said his toughest
challenge was making phone calls to get volunteers to help build the artificial
For his project, Brooksby rounded up about 12 of his peers from Boy Scout Troop
151 and his church to dig two 4-foot burrows on the morning of Sept. 19. They
built two nests about 100 yards apart, using two inverted 5-gallon buckets for
the nests and perforated flexible drainpipe, donated by Ackland Pump and
Irrigation in Yakima.
Now, it's a waiting game.
The planning and completion of the project was a success, but unlike the theme
in the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams" starring Kevin Costner, just because the
burrows are built doesn't necessarily mean the owls will come. It could take up
to five years for any owls to find the artificial burrow, which they would use
"We'd be really lucky if we got one nesting pair," said Leslie Wahl, who manages
the Hoeger Preserve for the Yakima Valley Audubon Society. "If we could
establish a nesting pair, we'd be very excited about that."
Burrowing owls are a small ground-dwelling owl found in open dry grasslands,
agricultural fields and range lands. They are often associated with burrowing
animals, particularly prairie dogs, ground squirrels and badgers because the
owls rely on these animals' burrowing abilities for their nests.
While burrowing owls were abundant in Yakima County at one time — that was in
the early 1900s — the population has dwindled, nearing the point of becoming an
"Burrowing owls are a species that are under serious threat because of lost
habitat," said Wahl. "Burrowing owls classically nest in badger holes. They
don't dig them themselves. And as agriculture comes in, it forces badgers out
and with that goes the burrowing owls."
Wahl said the local Audubon Society has been planning to build artificial
burrows since eight of the owls were spotted in the area about two years ago.
But the project was not a priority.
Brooksby' interest in animals and the opportunity to pair that with his Eagle
Scout project came together with the help of a librarian in Selah, who is also
an Audubon member.
"He's encyclopedic about animals," said Brooksby's mother, Leslie.
Brooksby took care of getting the necessary groundwork done for the project by
getting it approved by the advancement committee for the Skookum Boy Scout
District and consulting a biologist for the state.
While Brooksby has yet to make the ceremonial step to become an Eagle Scout —
something that about 2 percent of Boy Scouts achieve — he has completed most of
the other requirements, said Stephani Kinney.
Since completing the project, Brooksby is back to some of the other things that
interest him, including animal-focused computer games, Pokémon cards and an
Dispelling the popular myth of the wise owl, Brooksby quipped: "Owls always ask
the question who? But they can't seem to find the answer."
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