As an NPAT supporter, you are in ‘good company’; The Texas Land Trust Council is a collaboration of 30+ Texas land trusts (including NPAT) encouraging excellence in the Texas land trust community through collaboration, education and outreach. Land Trusts within each Texas region, Panhandle Plains, Prairies and Lakes, Pineywoods, Gulf Coast, South Texas Plains, Hill Country and Big Bend Country, strive to conserve the native lands, wildlife and waterways of Texas for those who will follow us!
‘We educate Texans about native prairies, plant communities, grassland birds, wildlife and sustainable land-use practices.’ (from the Mission of Native Prairies Association of Texas)
Did you know? “Today’s prairies are disappearing even faster than Amazon rainforests.” The Nature Conservancy
While our collective efforts focus on protecting prairies; they are also protecting the habitats of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs and Burrowing Owls! 3 - for - 1 yield!
Habitats are being destroyed by natural and unnatural threats.
As protectors, we have the tools to reduce the unnatural threats; fortify our efforts by sharing our knowledge which enables more individuals to recognize the vital positions Prairies have in Prairie Dogs’ and Burrowing Owls’ survival!
• Natural threats are predation by horned owls, hawks, foxes, and badgers.
• Unnatural threats are land development practices, effects of climate change, and even domestic pets who are allowed to roam.
The Black-tailed Prairie Dogs (Cynomys ludovicianus) are very social animals who live in groups called PRAIRIE DOG TOWNS.
Photograph courtesy of TPWD
NPAT has been monitoring Black-tailed Prairie Dogs on a regular basis at our Maddin Prairie. This colony’s population has fluctuated; predators (feral hogs) have been observed. NPAT follows TPWD’s protocol on census of Prairie Dogs as well as Texas Horned Lizards on the property.
One PRAIRIE DOG TOWN can cover as much as 1,000 acres of prairie land in the Texas Panhandle. This burrow system may range in length from 12 feet to more than 100 feet; the main entrance tunnel goes straight down for 12 to 14 feet. The town consists of a series of connected underground burrows and is subdivided into wards, the wards are further subdivided into neighborhoods called coteries (KOTE-uh-rees). A prairie dog’s home territory is determined by the coterie to which it belongs.
HOME DESIGN: A listening-post chamber is close enough to the surface to hear, but deep enough to protect the listener. Horizontal passages run from the main tunnel and lead to chambers for food and refuse. The nursery is a grass-lined chamber where the young are raised. Lateral passages form pockets that help trap air when other portions of the burrow might be flooded. Ventilation and escape routes are designed connecting with at least two holes above the ground.
WEATHER: During the hottest hours of a summer day the prairie dogs retire to their cooler burrows to nap or carry out other underground activities. But when evening comes, they once again return to the surface to eat. In winter, prairie dogs venture above ground to feed while the sun’s rays are the warmest. During really bad weather they sleep (but do not hibernate), living off body fat when there are no stored food supplies.
COMMUNICATION: an integral part of the prairie dog’s daily life; they are quite vocal and have a variety of shrill whistles and barks for different situations.
SENTRY DUTY: one or more are on duty during “above-ground” – sitting atop their mounds ready to sound a warning to the entire community. At the first sign of danger, the sentry makes a sharp, warning bark. The other prairie dogs race to their burrows, sit up, and join in with the warning cry to spread the word. If the situation warrants it, each family member, one by one, dives into the security of the burrow, leaving a deserted-looking town for the intruder. When danger is past, the sentry gives a songlike all-clear bark and the others again join in to spread the word.
TERRITORIAL CALL: warns the intruder! A great deal of the prairie dog’s energy is exerted to deliver a forceful territorial call! The prairie dog thrusts its body upward full-length, points its nose in the air and its forelegs are outstretched. This is a quick, powerful movement and is not always successful! The first few times a young prairie dog attempts the territorial call, it often tumbles over backwards. (Exerpts from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.)
The Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia) , a small, long-legged owl “favors prairie lands, areas of flat open ground with very short grass or bare soil”, The National Audubon Society.
Photograph by Randy Rakes - Burrowing Owls near Dell City, Texas.
NEST/BURROW: As their common name suggests, Burrowing Owls excavate their own homes.
BURROW PREPARATION: Burrowing Owls prefer to make use of other burrows (having been vacated by Prairie Dogs - who also live sociably in colonies)! Although it is not clear which of the pair selects the burrow, both male and female renovate and maintain burrows. Before nesting, the male owl will prepare the nest site by enlarging the burrow, if necessary, and lining the burrow with dried horse or cattle feces (for egg insulation and/or possibly to camouflage the owls’ scent from predators). Should the feces be removed for some reason, the owls will replace it within a day. Burrowing Owls continue to maintain their burrow throughout most of the breeding season and will reuse it the following year.
INCUBATION: Once owls are paired and have mated the female will lay between 7 to 9 white eggs between the months of February and June; the pair takes turns incubating the eggs for about 28 days; once incubation is complete the owlets hatch between March and July. (The eggs are originally white; during the 28 days they will turn an earthy brown color due to staining from the surrounding soil and insulation.)
DIET: These owls eat mostly insects, rodents and occasionally birds (they hunt either by day or night). They increase their hunting prowess by following a dog or horse along the open prairie, taking advantage of any animals who might be stirred up from the grass.
• Cowboys sometimes called these owls “howdy birds” because they seemed to nod in greeting from the entrances to their burrows in prairie-dog towns.
• Texas hosts year-round residents and winter migrants, enabling birders to readily find loose colonies of this long-legged owl throughout the year in all but the northeastern part of the state. (Excerpts from The Audubon Field-Guide.) Enjoy this AMUSING 59-second ‘burrowing owl’ video: select Cornell Lab of Ornithology Burrowing Owl Webcam.
• Info on the accreditation process and what it means for NPAT is on Our Blog.
• Current and back issues of the Texas Prairie News are in the Newsletters section!
See the News and Events section for field trips, conferences, and more!
(Enter your email address to receive future field trip and conference announcements.)
You have enabled us to realize goals and enhanced our confidence; you offered your time and efforts as dedicated volunteers and financial donors. Diligent, generous and like-minded individuals empowered us to concentrate on renewing and preserving priceless Texas prairies and to educate individuals and reinforce our efforts! We hope to see you out on the prairie!
NPAT Board of Directors and Staff
INFORMATION AVAILABLE via our DASHBOARD LINKS:
Support Us: Donation Options and Membership Fees - ALL Tax-deductible
News & Events: Exciting Family Activities (in your area or a location you want to visit) Chronological notices of educational and inspiring activities (date, time, location, driving directions, any applicable fees and stipulations). Don’t miss an opportunity, and MARK YOUR CALENDAR! “We’ll see you out on the prairie!”
Become a fan of Texas prairies!
NPAT is excited at the prospects available supporting land owners’ efforts, educating young and old about the values of our prairies, encouraging environmental preservation, and enjoying the abundance of native flora and fauna!