A rare owl killed in New Mexico last month has pushed federal authorities to step up efforts to protect the endangered species. The rare burrowing owl was killed in the Caja del Rio area of Santa Fe National Forest.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, local birdwatcher Julie Luetzelschwab spotted two rare burrowing owls on June 27 and took a picture of them. When she returned a few days later, Luetzelschwab saw only one owl. The second owl was found dead nearby. Analysis revealed that the rare owl was killed by a gunshot while in flight.
While it would be admittedly tough for authorities to apprehend the person who shot the owl, the spokeswomen for the Bureau of Land Management in Santa Fe, Donna Hummel, said the incident would not go “unnoticed.”
Hummel said the bureau is taking the killing of the rare owl “seriously” and more law enforcement officers have been assigned to patrol the Caja del Rio area.
Burrowing owls are protected federally by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, according to Burrowing Owl Conservation Organization. Killing a burrowing owl could result in up to six months in jail and a fine of about $500, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. While the existence of this rare owl is being threatened in some parts of the country, the bird is thriving in other areas like Florida.
Burrowing owls are usually found in open, dry land with low vegetation. They stay in holes dug by other animals like prairie dogs, according to the National Wildlife Foundation. However, sightings of burrowing owls have become very rare in parts of the country.
Last month, a rare sighting was made of a burrowing owl near Red River Valley in North Dakota, the Grand Forks Herald reported. Why the sighting was remarkable is that the owl was spotted in an area with lush vegetation, not a low grassland.
According to Defenders of Wildlife, one of the reasons why sightings of the burrowing owl are becoming rare is that the habitat of the animal is often destroyed during land development projects and exercises to eradicate colonies of prairie dogs. They have also been affected by the use of pesticides and automobile accidents.
The rare owl killed in Santa Fe has shone the spotlight on the dwindling population of the species. Jim Walters, a biologist who has been living in Santa Fe for nearly three decades, told the Santa Fe New Mexican that the population of burrowing owls has been declining in the city.
“Something is desperately wrong,” he said.
In an article Walters wrote for the Albuquerque Journal in 2011, he blamed the declining population of burrowing owls on the decision of Santa Fe authorities to eliminate prairie dogs from the city. According to Walters, in 2008, there were more than 20 pairs of this rare owl nesting in Santa Fe. However, in 2011, there were just four pairs. This year, he told the Santa Fe New Mexican that there are about six pairs in the city. Nationwide, about 10,000 pairs of burrowing owls are estimated to be in existence.
In a bid to protect the small population of burrowing owls in Santa Fe, Hummel said the Bureau of Land Management would partner with local conservation groups.
“There are lots of eyes and ears and people that care about wildlife here in New Mexico,” she noted.
The rare owl killed in Santa Fe is not the first burrowing owl to make the news after being murdered by a human this year. In May, three baby burrowing owls were found dead in their nest in the Camelot Park, Cape Coral, Florida, NBC2 reported. Investigators said the rare owls appear to have been suffocated after someone put a stone on top of their nest.
The rare owl killed in Santa Fe was a parent to three small owlets, Luetzelschwab revealed.