ABSTRACT

Studying species that nest underground, such as the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) is challenging. Ecological and behavioral information about Burrowing Owls is often limited to activities occurring aboveground or to insights gained from live viewing using downhole cameras and burrow scopes with limited recording capacity. Although automated monitoring systems may enhance underground observations, such systems need to be self-powered to support research conducted in remote areas. We describe a self-powered (off-grid) digital video recording system developed in 2014 to monitor nesting Burrowing Owls at Rio Bosque Wetlands Park in El Paso, Texas, USA. We used solar panels, infrared cameras, and digital video recorders to create a self-contained system for monitoring two artificial Burrowing Owl nest sites. From 2014 to 2018, we collected high-resolution video recordings of Burrowing Owl nesting ecology and behavior in their underground artificial burrows and nest boxes in remote areas. We provide detailed instructions and recommendations for the design, construction, installation, and maintenance of this system. Although our system required some initial material and labor costs, it required less on-site work than traditional behavioral observations, while also providing high-quality video images of an understudied aspect of Burrowing Owl ecology. Key ecological insight gained included nest initiation dates, clutch sizes, incubation dates, hatching sequences, prey items delivered to the nest, and predators of Burrowing Owls in the El Paso area. We encountered substantial technical problems but recommend the overall design of our system.

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