Last fall, we told you how Wren House Brewing Co. and Audubon Southwest had teamed up to create U9 Lager, a beer named for one brazen burrowing owl. The beer was part one of two, which was to be followed by a spring brew named for U9’s new mate.
Well, there’s been a change in plans.
“U9 has had so many girlfriends,” says Cathy Wise, the community science manager with Audubon Southwest. “Nobody is sure if he's paired up with anybody right now.”
In the meantime, Audubon Southwest and Wren House have created something of a prequel beer — the Blondie IPA (hilariously, not a blonde ale). “What we wanted to do with the second beer is highlight the nesting of the birds,” Wise says. “They’re pairing up and they’re nesting.”
The brew is set for release Wednesday, March 17.
Blondie IPA is named after one of the very first burrowing owls the team saw near the Nina Mason Pulliam Rio Salado Audubon Center around 2014.
“What is really notable about her is that she is very, very, very light. I think she's the prettiest burrowing owl I've ever seen because she's so, so pale,” Wise says. “And we were all concerned about her because she was living on this crumbling cliff. And eventually, it did crumble.”
The Audubon team created artificial burrows in the Rio Salado habitat (the riverbed corridor south of downtown) in partnership with the folks Wild at Heart wildlife rescue center. This is for a project called Downtown Owls. The objective is to rehome rescued and banded (meaning there’s a little tag around the owl’s foot with an identifying letter-number combo) owls from Wild at Heart, which will hopefully attract some wild (unbanded) owls.
One day, Blondie was spotted visiting the artificial burrows, which is exactly what the team was hoping she’d do.
“We were just so delighted that she started coming over, across the river, and checking out the burrows,” Wise says. “That spells success for a lot of different reasons, because not only are we providing wild owls with a safer place to live, we're also introducing them to relocated owls and incorporating the populations, which is better genetically.”
Quick scientific sidenote: This is called passive relocation — building burrows next to crumbling or soon-to-be-destroyed burrows (due to incoming development) and waiting to see who shows up.
“We can't say in all certainty that she did mate with one of the owls, but we can say that that site was the most productive for a couple of years as far as having owlets,” Wise says.
For whatever reason, the owls went over to Seventh Street, and they never saw Blondie again. She is a wild owl, after all.
Where Wren House comes in is crafting beer served in a can with artwork (created again by Lauren Thoeny, Wren House’s designer) depicting how wild and rescued, banded and unbanded, owls can meet, mate, and create new generations of burrowing owls. This new can again shows a bit.ly link connecting people to a volunteer signup page for constructing burrowing owl habitats.
“The beer turned out real nice (designed and brewed by one of my guys, Akil,” says Wren House owner Preston Thoeny in an email to New Times. “I think it has a real nice bright hop character but is still super drinkable.”
And the collaborations aren’t over yet.
This Saturday, March 20, in partnership with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, Audubon Southwest will be at the Powers Butte Wildlife Area on the east side of the Gila River (about 20 miles north of Gila Bend). They’ll be there hardening previously constructed burrows because right now, owl parents are choosing places to nest.
“It's really important, especially when they start having young, that there are places for them to sit,” Wise says. “As the babies come out, we need to make sure that there's kind of like a porch.”
Wise is looking for more volunteers, so those interested in helping to create owl porches this weekend can visit the Audubon Southwest website to sign up.
And those interested in trying Blondie IPA ($14 for four, 16-ounce cans) can visit the Wren House website to order or can swing by for a pickup.