As part of Citizen Science Month 2023, we’re sharing excerpts from ‘Into the Zooniverse’, a series of books celebrating the projects and people of the Zooniverse.

You can find and download all editions of ‘Into the Zooniverse’ here.

Wildwatch Burrowing Owl

THE RESEARCH TEAM, made up of members of the San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance, monitors this delicate species which lives underground rather than in trees.  These owls cannot dig their own burrows, and instead “reuse” excavated dens dug by ground squirrels and other fossorial (burrowing) animals.  The team also makes use of artificially constructed burrows so they can check inside the nest chambers on a weekly basis.  They check for eggs and count them.  Then when the chicks are 3 weeks old the team tags the owls and sometimes uses GPS trackers to more closely observe the habits of these animals.  These tags allow volunteers to keep track of certain birds, sometimes leading to the creation of their own nicknames.  This can be rewarding when the next year’s data comes out and familiar faces can be seen in new nests. Zooniverse volunteers help the team by viewing motion-activated photos and flagging any which show interesting behavior like feeding, mating or even predators in the burrow. There were over 200,000 photos to comb through in the first project! The goal is to see how many chicks emerge from the burrow, how many fledge (leave the nest), and how predation events impact family groups and the greater population. 

Image credit: Wildwatch Burrowing Owl Project

Summary by: Sean Miller

Check out this project: here

View the full ‘Into the Zooniverse’ book: here