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YUMA, Ariz. -- A major expansion of Yuma Regional Medical Center has led to the relocation of protected owls.

Construction crews working on the expansion have found themselves face to face with western burrowing owls, the Yuma Sun reported Wednesday.

The hospital said it's working with the state Game and Fish Department and a nonprofit, Wild At Heart, to relocate an estimated 25 of the creatures while minimizing the impact of the relocation.

``We hope to ensure the survival of this protected species,'' CEO Pat Walz said.

The hospital said volunteers will care for the birds for at least 90 days, initially at the Wild At Heart facility in Cave Creek and then at the new site.

The transitional period will serve to break the birds' bond with the former habitat.

The owls live underground, leaving them especially affected by development. They do not dig their own burrows but instead inhabit underground spaces abandoned by other animals, primarily prairie dogs and ground squirrels.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says western burrowing owls historically have lived in Canada, the Great Plains of the United States and southward into Mexico.

However, populations have declined in several regions, including the northern Great Plains and Canada, while increasing in others, including southwestern deserts.

Associated Press,

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