At least 10 rare burrowing owls have been discovered thriving in a nature preserve near Los Angeles International Airport.
The nature preserve used to be the beachfront community of Surfridge, the Associated Press reported. The Los Angeles Times said the 10 owls are the most seen at the 302-acre LAX Dunes Preserve in 40 years.
Pete Bloom, a biologist and avian expert who helped conduct a wildlife survey this month, called the discovery “very exciting” and “a real stunner.”
Bloom told the Times the “tiny chunk of land has become priceless real estate” for these owls. He also said there’s no place left for the owls to go in Los Angeles.
The burrowing owl is a long-legged, ground-dwelling owl found in the southeast and south-central parts of the U.S. Burrowing owls are also one of the smallest owls found in Florida.
Audubon said their habitats include open grassland, prairies, farmland and airfields. The society’s guide to North American birds said these owls are often called “howdy birds” by cowboys because the birds seem to “nod in greeting from the entrances to their burrows.”
Audubon said the owl species has been declining for years because of prairie dog and squirrel control programs, as well as habitat loss.
The AP said scientists believe the migratory owls have returned to the preserve because of ongoing restoration work. The neighborhoods disappeared decades ago to make way for the jet age, and the land has since returned to a more natural state of sand, native brush and invasive weeds.
The preserves are just a small part of a dune system already home to 900 species of plants and animals, the AP reported. Some endangered species in these dunes that are now on the rebound include native evening primrose, El Segundo blue butterflies and California gnatcatchers.
The Times said federal scientists are talking about proposals to bring back animals that once roamed the dunes but are no longer there. In the meantime, volunteers worth monthly with authorities and the preserve’s owner to help restore the natural environment.