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Biologists ask public to report blinged-out burrowing owls

Have you seen a smallish owl with some blueish bling? The U.S. Fish &Wildlife Service wants to know about it.

Biologists from the service placed metallic blue bands on the legs of 52 burrowing owls in Las Vegas and Pahrump in 2014. Now they’re asking the public to report any sightings of the banded birds around town or out in the desert.

Western burrowing owls are small, long-legged, ground-inhabiting birds with large yellow eyes. They are often seen during the daytime resting outside of their burrows, usually in an open area with little vegetation.

In the fall and winter, the young owls tend to leave home and move to new areas. Some remain in southern Nevada year-round, while others migrate south or disperse into other areas where there may be more food — namely insects, small rodents and lizards — during winter.

By tracking the banded birds, researchers hope to learn more about where the juveniles go after leaving their parents’ burrows.

Each banded owl has a blue metallic band on its left leg and a silver band on its right leg. If you see one, the service asks you to try to read the two-digit number and letter on the blue band, record the bird’s GPS location or note the nearest cross streets and call it in to 702-515-5230.

You will probably need binoculars or a spotting scope to read the band. They tend to fly away if you get too close.

Dan Balduini, spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said burrowing owls are not federally listed but are considered a species of concern due to habitat loss.

At Floyd Lamb Park in Las Vegas, the service and the Red Rock Audubon Society have created artificial burrows to replace natural ones lost through development of surrounding land. For the past seven years, volunteers have monitored these burrows during nesting to estimate the number of young in each.

The banding in 2014 was done by service biologists and the Audubon Society, with 48 juveniles and four adult owls captured at Floyd Lamb Park in Las Vegas and at several locations in Pahrump.

Banded birds of many species pass through southern Nevada during migration.

Anyone who reads the band on a bird or finds a dead banded bird may report it online at www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/ or by calling 1-800-327-2263.

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