Local biologist talks about the importance of burrowing owls in the Borderland

El Paso News

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Urban biologist Lois Balin found several dead owls next to their specially built underground nests at Thomas Manor Park.

Back in July, Balin was walking through the park when she saw two adult owls and one owlet laying on the ground by their nests.

She said she felt suspicious about their deaths, so she collected them and took them to the El Paso Zoo to have them examined.

“We found that they were shot, someone had deliberately shot them with either a bird gun or a BB gun. There were pellets in owls,” said Balin.

This lead her to believe this was done with a malicious intent.

Burrowing owls are species of greatest conservation need in Texas, which means hurting or killing them is a class C misdemeanor, with $500 fines and almost $2,000 in penalties per bird.

They are unique birds because they nest underground.

During the remodeling of Thomas Manor Park in 2019, El Paso Water contractors noticed owls nesting in pipes they used for construction.

“We worked together with Texas Parks and Wildlife, with the contractor and the engineer so we can build a habitat for these owls,” said Gisela Dagnino, the engineering division manager at El Paso Water.

Several owls nested in the specially built habitats and even had offspring.

One of those owlets was the victim of the attack.

Balin said they didn’t have enough evidence to find who committed the crime, but they did launch a full investigation.

She believes younger children might have been playing around with a pellet gun.

Another reason she stated was the legend known to the Borderland area saying owls are evil and turn into witches.

She said she couldn’t believe who would do such thing to these unique animals that help our environment.

“They give us free pest control, these little owls are giving us free ecological services,” said Balin, naming only one of many ways these animals are beneficial to our surroundings.

She said burrowing owls bring bird watchers from all around the country, who then contribute to the economical gain of our region.

With all the contributions we get from these birds, she says, being in their presence is the most valuable one.

“For people to able to go outside and be able to see a wild owl, it can change your life, it can change your life only for the better,” concluded Balin.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.