A small dirt lot sits between ASU's Polytechnic campus, a field of solar panels and a suburban neighborhood. Last summer's heavy rains spurred the growth of bushes and weeds, and aside from a few newly-planted cacti, the area is otherwise flat and treeless.
Through collaboration between ASU and Wild at Heart rescue, housing the burrows on-campus allows for students and staff to engage in hands-on research after a year of mostly online education.
Heather Bateman, an ornithology professor at the Polytechnic campus, can easily access the owl habitat only a short walk across the street from her office. She observes the owls from a distance with a pair of binoculars to not disturb them or scare them off.
Bateman has been involved with the owl conservation project since the beginning.
"It started with faculty and students working together," she said.
Adam Stein, a biology professor and one of Bateman's colleagues, and two undergraduate students looked into areas on the Polytechnic campus suitable for burrowing owls over a year ago. Stein, along with Bateman, proposed possible sites to ASU and reached out to Wild at Heart to see whether or not building burrows on campus was a possibility.
In order to properly house the owls, the area needed to be fairly open, with little-to-no trees nearby to avoid potential predators. The site also needed to be in close proximity to areas where the owls could forage for food.
The potential habitats also had to fit into ASU's plan for the Polytechnic campus, so they could not be in any area slated for construction in the near future.
Greg Clark, Wild at Heart's burrowing owl habitat coordinator, surveyed the proposed sites. Upon his approval, the organization and ASU facilities began work on the artificial burrows in May.
"We did it over a weekend," Bateman said. "(Facilities) used the backhoe to dig sort of a U-shaped hole about four feet underground, and Wild At Heart had all of the items in terms of how to build that nest chamber."
The owls were introduced with what Bateman called a "soft release." Wild at Heart brought the owls to the site and placed them in the burrows. They then constructed tents over the burrows so the owls could be acclimated to the site. Finally, they removed the tents and it was up to the owls to decide whether or not they would stay.