WACHERNHEIM, Germany - McCully Barracks has gone to the birds ... literally.

When the facility practically closed its gates a few years ago, the German Schleiereule, or Common Barn Owl, moved in.

"A lot of species use old buildings as a location they can hibernate or raise their young in," said Alexander Sabais, a natural conservation media manager with CDM Consult GmbH. "This particular bird is a bird of prey and all birds of prey are protected by Germany law."

With the relocation of the 1st Armored Division, 5th Signal Command and their support units to Wiesbaden, and other transitions over the next few years affecting the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden, McCully Barracks is getting a $3.3 million overhaul.

"With the number of Soldiers expected to increase in the Wiesbaden area, vehicle storage, warehouses, office and administration spaces are in high demand," said Tammie Stouter, a regional program manager with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is managing the renovations.

The project currently includes renovations of three 1916-era hangars buildings and two warehouse facilities on McCully to make room for 5th Signal tenants.

"The garrison is looking for the highest capacity and the best use of the space," said Phillip Cohen, planning section chief for the district. "Ultimately, other industrial operational facilities are going to be closed and relocated to McCully and McCully Barracks will transform into McCully Support Center."

But while the Army is slowly moving back into McCully, the old tenants will have to be transferred to new homes.

"Before any construction or renovation project can start, there are a number of environmental surveys run," said Sibylle Ballnath, a district project manager. "Anytime an animal is found nesting or roosting, it must be studied for one life cycle. This will determine whether the animal is in good condition and whether it's breeding to determine what steps to take next."

Since the late 1990s, the Schleiereule has been on the endangered species list, so plans now include funding to relocate the owls, said Ballnath.

"New measurements or accommodations must be in place for the Schleiereule before work begins," said Ballnath.

The Schleiereule is a larger owl with a distinctive heart-shaped face dubbing it the "monkey-faced owl," among other names. The barn owl is about the size of a small cat, but weighs only one pound with a wingspan of 43 to 47 inches.

Those new accommodations are large owl-friendly shelters approximately 20 feet high on a pole outside of building 6217. If transplanting the owl is successful and they accept their new habitat, there will be no need to relocate them off McCully Barracks, said Biologist Mark Mann, a district project manager.

"It's our obligation to relocate these owls," said Mann. "In fact, U.S. regulations for endangered species are very similar to German ones, meaning we have to accommodate these owls rather than forcing the owl to adapt to our presence."

And the Schleiereule is not the only bird being relocated to a new nest.

During the environmental surveys for the $18 million townhouse project at Wetzel Kaserne in Baumholder, the House Martin, a protected migratory bird, is making its home in the existing housing community.

And when it comes to relocating animal inhabitants, especially endangered or protected species, biologists must be consulted about any proposals, said Mann.

"Roosting simply means that the bird is sleeping or living in the facility," said Mann. "While nesting means they're breeding in the facility. That's a completely different situation with a whole new set of regulations and requirements."

The House Martin, a protected migratory bird, is living in stairwells at Wetzel. The bird, a relative of the swallow, is found across Europe and northern Asia making its closed, cup-like home on the outside of man-made structures such as bridges and houses.

Unfortunately for the House Martin, the inadequate stairwell housing it's currently living in is scheduled to be replaced by 38 new townhouse-style units meaning more than 240 nests will have to be relocated.

The solution - a new community of "houses" will be constructed to accommodate the avian tenants.

"Construction the new housing community is completely necessary to improve the quality-of-life for the families living in there, so building the swallow houses will serve as a compensation measure in which the birds can be relocated," said Nathan Edwards, a district environmental project manager. "The really awesome and unique thing about these houses, besides it being the first of its kind, is they will look exactly like the houses in the community except they will be on 30-foot poles."

As in the case of the Schleiereule and all species relocated by construction projects, the House Martin will be receiving an improved habitat.

"If successful, it is a win/win situation for the owl and McCully Barracks," said Edwards. "The Barn Owls get new, safe and structurally-sound homes and McCully Barracks get natural, environmentally-safe rodent control."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16