Burrow Me a Home

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Zoo InternQuest is a seven-week career exploration program for San Diego County high school juniors and seniors. Students have the unique opportunity to meet professionals working for the San Diego Zoo, Safari Park, and Institute for Conservation Research, learn about their jobs and then blog about their experience online. Follow their adventures here on the Zoo’s website!

eric_week3_picWe all love the fresh aroma of paint drying on the wall, the crisp scent of newly placed oak wood on the floors, and the unique furniture that makes each one of our houses a true home. Whether it’s a white sun house with lawn chairs to lie in or a clear blue pool to jump in during those scorching summers, a home is that special place we return to for relaxation after a stressful day. A new home provides new opportunities, new memories and a future for incredible experiences, but do we ever wonder who was there before us?

Before the nails were hammered into the fresh wood and before the land was cleared to construct your new beautiful home, there laid a field of grasslands that blew with the wind and grew in the basking sunlight and cascading rainfall. Simplistic and calm, these patchy lands once more predominant in San Diego provided a home for many native animals such as the minuscule western burrowing owl. With the construction and development of new apartments and houses in the local counties, we have a new home to go to, but burrowing owls have nowhere to go. So what’s next for them?

With the efforts of foundations such as the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Services, the San Diego Foundation, and the San Diego Zoo Institute of Conservation Research, these extraordinary organizations have focused efforts on grassland habitat restoration throughout San Diego in order to help rebuild their native habitat. Interns had the chance to meet Colleen Wisinski, a Research Coordinator in the Applied Animal Ecology Division at the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, who is sort of like a super hero for the western burrowing owls. With a master’s degree in Fish & Wildlife Management from Montana State University, Ms. Wisinski tracks and monitors the burrowing owls in the wild in order to better understand their overall survival in their decreasing habitat. Monitoring equipment such as camera traps or banding for identification purposes allow organizations to collect database records, observations and learn more about these birds that will help to develop an improved environment for them to live in and to hopefully boost their populations. Ms. Wisinski takes the data collected from the camera traps and places into Adobe Bridge, so that each photo can be tagged with specific key words. With over 1.8 million pictures taken so far, Ms. Wisinski groups all the photos into files to organize the enormous amount of data by using tags such as grouping pictures of just owls or pictures of just owls eating. This usage of grouping all the pictures taken by Ms. Wisinski will allow later processes in learning about these birds to become easier and more efficient for the future.

What does the future hold for these owls? With more residential buildings and apartments being constructed throughout in San Diego, the threat towards western burrowing owls’ homes has continued to amplify and help is needed for these birds. What can you do? For the future, Ms. Wisinski hopes to gain assistance and support from volunteers and locals in order to protect these birds. Simple actions such as planting native plants in your backyard and picking up trash in your backyard or local canyons can make a huge difference towards impacting future burrowing owl populations as well as other local animals in Southern California. Also, whether you are camping in the woods or hiking along the trail of a local canyon, important, yet simple decisions such as not disturbing the habitat or destroying the local vegetation while camping or walking off trails can help these burrowing owls continue to live in their native habitats. With efforts from anyone living in burrowing owl populations, these birds can continue to live in their beautiful environment, just as much as we love living in a safe home. Your little actions can leave a massive impression on current and future population of burrowing owls and other native animals.

So, you’ve never seen one before? As a matter of fact, a few western burrowing owls reside in the Safari Park at Condor Ridge. Go sneak a peek at these small and beautiful burrowing owls and always be on the lookout for them around your neighborhood or local ecosystem, because you never know, you might just see one.

Eric, Real World Team
Week Three, Winter Session 2014