skip to main content
caption: A burrowing owl being weighed and tagged at the Umatilla Weapons Depot in northern Oregon 
    Slideshow Icon 2 slides
Enlarge Icon
A burrowing owl being weighed and tagged at the Umatilla Weapons Depot in northern Oregon

Goodbye chemical weapons, hello burrowing owls

A decommissioned military base in northeast Oregon provides sanctuary for a recovering burrowing owl population.

“There are two important days in your life: the day that you're born, and the day you find out why,” explained David Johnson, founder of the Global Owl Project explained David Johnson. “I know why I was born — for the owls. So I'm going to work with owls until my very last breath.”

The Global Owl Project aims to protect endangered owl species all over the world. One lucky owl species, which has been Johnson’s main focus for the past 12 years, is the little burrowing owl.

A burrowing owl reaches only six inches in height and weighs less than half a pound. And as you might guess, these tiny owls live underground. But a curious domino effect has caused a worrying and widespread loss of their subterranean homes. Johnson is on a rescue mission to save the burrowing owl.

“When we first started, there were three or four pairs,” Johnson said. That was back in 2007. “We figured, if we don't do something, we'll lose them. And we certainly would have by 2010 — there wouldn't have been any.”

This rescue mission involves some chemical weapons, an old military base, and a very large plunger.

It’s a story about one man’s love affair with a mysterious little creature, and the things they’ve taught him about what they need to survive.

THE WILD is a production of KUOW in Seattle in partnership with Chris Morgan Wildlife and Wildlife Media. It is produced by Matt Martin and edited by Jim Gates. It is hosted, produced and written by Chris Morgan. Fact checking by Apryle Craig. Our theme music is by Michael Parker.

Follow us on Instagram (@thewildpod) for more adventures and behind the scenes action!