Will a new plan save the burrowing owls?

Audubon hopes to rescue city's favorite bird from decline

As Mountain View's population of burrowing owls is dwindling, authorities are being prodded to approve a new plan to save them.

Despite a successful breeding season this year, it appears that the owls are barely hanging on. Every breeding pair was successful for the first time since the city began to keep track in the 1980s -- just three pairs of owls hatched a total of 10 eggs.

The number of young this year at Shoreline Park is less than half the 22 chicks that hatched in 2003, said Phil Higgins, a city-employed biologist who manages the owls' habitat. There were hundreds of owls in Santa Clara County in the 1980s, but their numbers are now estimated at 35. The owls have experienced a similar decline in other parts of the state.

In response to the decline, a local owl expert supported by the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society has drafted a study of one method for saving the owls, which involves taking two pairs from the county to a special raptor breeding facility in Idaho, then introducing their eggs to nests in Shoreline Park and other grasslands in the region where the birds live, including Moffett Field and the Alviso area. Thankfully, the owls are not particular about what eggs they raise, said Shani Kleinhaus, an environmental advocate with the Audubon Society.

But the study needs approval by the Sacramento staff of the California Fish and Game department, and local environmental advocates say they have been unable to get their attention since the study proposal was submitted a year ago.

"We didn't hear anything, which is why we asked Assembly member (Paul) Fong to get involved," Kleinhaus said. "We have to do something quickly. We have to be proactive at this point."

The Audubon Society recently gave Assemblyman Fong a tour of the burrowing owl nests at Shoreline in late August in hopes that he could be of some help in getting the study approved.

Fong expressed support for the owls in a statement.

"During my recent tour of the Shoreline, the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society provided me with tremendous insight of their efforts to preserve the burrowing owls habitat in Mountain View and other parts of Santa Clara County," Fong said. "At this point, my office is assessing the situation and is looking into what can be done to keep the burrowing owl population strong at Shoreline and other parts of Santa Clara County."

If the study is proven successful, the Department of Fish and Game could implement augmentation as a policy. There are other possibilities though, such as supplemental feeding of the owls, which are struggling to get enough rodent meat in their diets.

"We would consider other studies as well, we just want to see something moving forward," Kleinhaus said.

Owls face threats

Protecting the owls from humans and predators has become more important as their numbers decline. Higgins, the city-employed biologist, is known to patrol the owls' burrows if humans are seen getting too close. He lets people know that they should keep 250 feet from the owls, and that harassing them or killing them is punishable under state law with a fine of up to $15,000 and up to six months in jail.

Higgins says he's seen the owls abandon their eggs during nesting season after being harassed by humans, often photographers who get too close to the birds for the best shot.

"Because we have so few owls, a lot of people want to see them," Kleinhaus said. "They kind of zero in on the few we have left. When there were more of them it was not an issue."

Kleinhaus said they owl advocates have been telling wildlife photographers on various online message boards to be careful around the owls. At one point a sign was put up around an owl burrow that had become extremely popular with photographers. "It was not a big deal after that," Kleinhaus said.

Getting too close makes the owls move around defensively in front of their burrows, alerting hawks and other predators to their location.

"When an owl gets upset or start jumping around they can attract their own predators and get killed," Kleinhaus said.

Higgins has discovered the remains of owls at Shoreline Park that were killed by hawks, usually a pile of feathers or a leg that's been left behind. Dogs are also a threat to the birds, even though they are not allowed in Shoreline Park for this reason.

Park maintenance workers could also be a threat to the owls if they aren't careful, potentially running over their burrows with a truck, for example. Owl experts recently held a workshop for city employees that was well received. Kleinhaus said many wanted to know how they could help save the birds.

Kleinhaus said that Mountain View's owl management plan, which includes building burrows and cutting vegetation so owls can see predators, is a model for other cities, such as Sunnyvale and Palo Alto, both of which once had the owls in their bay-front parks.

Encroaching development has long been the main threat to the owls, and in Mountain View the development of the Shoreline area has cut into their habitat. The city has plans to build soccer and baseball fields south of the golf course on land the owls use to hunt mice and insects. But to compensate for that, the city plans to create more hunting grounds for the owls on the city's golf course, introducing vegetation, brush and rocks to attract small mice where the city has drained several freshwater ponds. Owls are known to nest on and around the course and have been seen there within the last month.

The city recently called on photographers to submit photos for an exhibit of birds at Shoreline Park, but made photographers promise to keep their distance from birds. The city received 240 photos for the exhibit, which runs from Sept. 4 to November 20 at the Rengstorff House.

An environmental document for the ball field project has been released and a public comment period runs until Sept. 15. Copies can be obtained online or by contacting the Public Works Department at 903-6311.

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3 people like this
Posted by vkmo
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Sep 2, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Help the owls survive. I also love the Canadian Geese. It was nice to see them at Shoreline Park. When I visited with my kids and grand-daughter I enjoyed pointing them out to them. Be kind (not cruel) to them also, as they are a delight to adults and kids alike. If the city takes action against the couple of hundred Geese now, some sadists may go after thousands of privately owned horses, and millions of cats and dogs afterwards!! Stop that, and bring them back to this city. Remember, they were all here before any of us (or horses, cats or dogs) got here.

3 people like this
Posted by Hedwig
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2011 at 2:39 pm

Isn't Google planning to build all over the owls nesting grounds? The poor owls chances are doomed. They are beautiful birds that deserve a helping hand at survival.

3 people like this
Posted by Steve
a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 2, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Yep! We have already been through this with Google. How we as a society prioritize, how we value, is ultimately based not on "how good it is," but "how much money will we make" or "what will be be my Return On Investment (ROI)." So much for the poor owls.

3 people like this
Posted by NotQuite
a resident of Blossom Valley
on Sep 2, 2011 at 10:39 pm

While the planned google development would certainly be considered to be on BO habitat, I have really not seen any in that area over the years walking the perimeter road at NASA. Used to see a lot more of them than today, but they have always been on the airfield and in and around the golf course on the east side of the airfield. I've seen a fair number of feral cats on the soon-to-be google side of Ames, so maybe they avoid that side?

3 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Feind
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 4, 2011 at 7:32 am

I am very appreciative of the time and energy being taken by all members of the community to protect the Western Burrowing Owls. My thanks to local and state government officials for working to implement the preservation plan, which can serve as a model for other cities. We are so lucky to have these very interesting birds in our immediate environment and protecting them will enhance the overall health of our Bay ecology.

3 people like this
Posted by Pati Rouzer
a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 4, 2011 at 7:33 am

A thank you to the staff at the City of MV and the Shoreline golf course managers for your attention to and work on preserving a bit of wildness on the last fringes of our city. I've lived and worked in Mountain View since the early 80's and have enjoyed getting out to the bay, taking in the vistas, watching birds, and especially looking for the Burrowing Owls. It's getting harder and harder to see these special residents of our city. They are not only delightful but an indicator of a healthy habitat. Thanks also to our elected city representatives and Assemblyperson Fong for their work helping the critters as well as the people who enjoy them.

3 people like this
Posted by Emily Renzel
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 8:53 am

Thank you to Santa Clara Valley Audubon and the City of Mountain View for taking steps to save the Burrowing Owls. I hope that these efforts will be fruitful and if so, might also be used in Palo Alto's historic burrowing owl habitat.

3 people like this
Posted by Greenrhythm
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 8:55 am

Thanks to Audubon for providing the info and the City of Mt. View for listening and reacting. Understanding that wildlife and its habitat are 'stakeholders' too will make our urban areas vital and diverse. Clean land, air and water for all. Good work by all involved.

3 people like this
Posted by Gail & Doug Cheeseman
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 9:00 am

Great article! WE hope the preservation plan moves forward quickly and successfully and that other cities will follow Mountain View's lead, including San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Palo Alto at Byxbee Park.

3 people like this
Posted by Jennell Manion
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 9:03 am

Thank you Assembly member Fong and Mountain View city council members for working with the Audubon Society to help preserve these beautiful owls.
We should strive to provide future generations with the same beauty we are lucky enough to have now. The Aflight exhibition sounds wonderful and I look forward to seeing the different species of birds that make use of the parkland.

3 people like this
Posted by Ruth Troetschler
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 9:05 am

Your article is very helpful for those of us who are not aware of the plight of these attractive owls. Thank you Mountain View for being at the forefront of Burrowing Owl protection in our county and setting an example to other nearby cities. Please keep up the good work.

5 people like this
Posted by Frances O'Neill
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 9:33 am

It's amazing when Assemblymen, City Council members, wildlife organizations and the public get together what they can achieve, it's so nice to hear a positive story for a change, I hope these beautiful birds can be saved so we can always enjoy seeing them at Shoreline Park, I have not seen any owls there for several years now.

4 people like this
Posted by Anne Ng
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 11:19 am

Thanks first to Daniel Debolt for a well written article educating all of us about burrowing owls. Thanks to Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and especially Shani Kleinhaus for their advocacy and to Assemblyman Paul Fong for carrying it to Sacramento. And thanks to the City of Mountain View and its Shoreline staff for setting an example for other bayside cities to follow, protecting the owls and their habitat. May their plans be implemented quickly, and the burrowing owl population increase!

4 people like this
Posted by Shari Emling
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 11:34 am

These beautiful and HELPFUL owls deserve our protection, and I am grateful for the foresight of the City of Mountain View and Assembly Fong for their support - along with the Audubon Society. The balance of nature benefits us all.

4 people like this
Posted by Sara
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 11:57 am

I have the privilege of studying burrowing owls in the wild, and they are fascinating creatures. More tenacious and resourceful than one would think, and mysterious as well. There is much we still do not know about their ecology. I hope more research on these charismatic birds will guide us toward a plan that will help us - owls and humans - live together in a peaceful, mutually beneficial way.

4 people like this
Posted by Raven Cimino
a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 4, 2011 at 11:59 am

Santa Clara is at the forefront of Burrowing Owl conservation. When I moved to Mountain View in 1966 we had Burrowing Owl colonies on every highway clover leaf. Caltrans wipe them all out. The ranch's along the bay all had Burrowing Colonies city governments, elected offices, city planners and developers all wiped them out. Now Santa Clara Audubon is providing the last measures of civic duties in managing the few remaining Burrowing Owls asking government to have a heart, to be wise , to train your landscape crews to get the rhythm of the Burrowing habitat during breeding periods. Santa Clara Audubon is a leadership organization, let us praise their efforts.

4 people like this
Posted by Helen Armer
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 12:03 pm

Thank you to the many organizations and people who have demonstrated leadership in addressing the crisis facing our county’s burrowing owls. These include the Mountain View City Council, Mayor Siegel, the staff of Shoreline Park, biologist Phil Higgins, and SCVAS environmental advocate Shani Kleinhaus. Without your efforts, we would surely lose our owl population. Let’s work to get other Santa Clara County cities to follow Mountain View’s lead.

4 people like this
Posted by Sula Foote
a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 4, 2011 at 12:11 pm

Santa Clara Vally Audubon Society has produced an award winning short documentary on the plight of the burrowing owls in our county,
"Reversing the Trend" - Web Link

I hope every teacher in our area would show it to her classroom!!!

4 people like this
Posted by Carolyn Straub
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Can't humans learn to be more ecologically astute? Saving the Western Burrowing Owl is as important as building a new house. Think about it.

4 people like this
Posted by Steve Zamek
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2011 at 4:53 pm

As a nearby resident, I've been enjoying the Burrowing Owls at Shoreline Park for nearly 20 years. But, unfortunately, their numbers have been decreasing to the point that they may soon no longer inhabit the park. Action is required immediately. I applaud the work of Santa Clara Audubon and fully support their efforts to save this precious bird. Mountain View has an opportunity now set an example for other local communities where the Burrowing Owl has likewise suffered.

3 people like this
Posted by Nancy Couperus
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2011 at 8:18 am

Congratulatiions to all the individuals and organizatiions who have kept the issue of the burrowing owls before the public. Without their dedication these amazing birds would long ago have disappeared from our area. Let's work toward bringing even greater awareness to the plight of the owls so that we can see an increase rather than a decrease in their numbers! Enlarging their range would be a positive step in that direction.

3 people like this
Posted by Catherine Trejo
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 5, 2011 at 10:49 am

Thank you so much for the great article on Mountain View's efforts to save the Burrowing Owls. Keeping this issue in the public eye is incredibly important, and the volunteers who work tirelessly to help preserve these and wonderful birds deserve all the support possible!

3 people like this
Posted by Marti Wright
a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Sep 5, 2011 at 10:56 am

Enjoyed the article on the Burrowing Owls.... Glad Assembly Fong is involved... I have enjoyed watching the owls at Shoreline and hope they can be saved.. Please keep us informed of the plight of these remarkable birds. Thanks to all who are involved in trying to save them, SCVAS, Phill Higgins, Biologist and the many who support this project.

3 people like this
Posted by Ginny Kaminski
a resident of another community
on Sep 5, 2011 at 2:05 pm

To know them is to love them! See the movie "Reversing the Trend", stop by the Rengstorff House, Shoreline at Mountain View this month to view the birds of Shoreline display. Thanks to Assemblyman Fong and all who are working so hard for the preservation of this very special animal. Shoreline has tried for many years to protect the owls. The realization is that they cannot do it without community effort. Let's all help our feathered friends.

3 people like this
Posted by Steve McHenry
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2011 at 9:14 am

Very good story; thanks for writing. I will support anything that Mountain View and other communities can do to protect burrowing owls.

3 people like this
Posted by Mona S.
a resident of Shoreline West
on Sep 6, 2011 at 12:52 pm

Santa Clara Valley Audubon and the City of Mountain View have been instrumental in taking steps to save the Burrowing Owls. I can only hope that someone listens to them and helps to save just a bit of nature for all of us.

3 people like this
Posted by caryl carr
a resident of another community
on Sep 6, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Great write-up - I hope it brings more attention to the plight of these birds and to the good work being done by the City of Mountain View Council and the Shoreline staff to help the owls survive. Mountain View is setting an example that will hopefully be followed by San Jose, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto at Byxbee park, and other communities around the bay to protect the burrowing owls and the habitat that they need to survive.

3 people like this
Posted by lovely critters
a resident of Whisman Station
on Sep 7, 2011 at 11:59 am

We must have nesting grounds for these creatures!

3 people like this
Posted by Laurie B
a resident of Stierlin Estates
on Sep 7, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Shoreline Park is a major destination for birders and managing for wildlife should be the highest priority in the park. I applaud the efforts of Mountain View city leaders and Assemblyman Paul Fong to take the plight of species such as Burrowing Owls seriously. Thanks, Shani and Santa Clara Valley Audubon, for leading the discussion and suggesting actions. I hope that other cities would follow the lead -- for example, San Jose. I cringe whenever I see a new office building along highway 237....once prime owl habitat, now home to unoccupied office space.

3 people like this
Posted by Joy R.
a resident of another community
on Sep 8, 2011 at 12:25 pm

I remember when you could take visitors to Shoreline and guarantee them an owl sighting; now I haven't seen a bird there in years. I sincerely hope these efforts are successful and that these wonderful birds are able to hold on to what little habitat they have left in the county. Thanks to Audubon for their countless hours of advocacy.

3 people like this
Posted by Carrie S.
a resident of North Whisman
on Sep 9, 2011 at 9:45 am

I am shocked to see such low #'s for the B owl population. I'd like to thank the City of Mountain View Council and Shoreline for their concern and attempts at protecting the owls and their habitats. Now that I am aware of the dire situation I am going to follow their plight and Paul Fong's attempt at addressing the issue in Sacramento.

3 people like this
Posted by lisa
a resident of another community
on Sep 9, 2011 at 4:27 pm

We can thank google for this! Taking over all that breeding ground so they can have a recreational campus for their employees..

3 people like this
Posted by VGrice
a resident of another community
on Sep 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm

A good wildlife photographer should always put wildlife first. Get a very good lense so that you can take your pictures from a safe distance. It's also a good idea to take pictures from a parked vehicle or a nearby building. Never disturb the bird/animal that you are photographing-this can easily result in their injury or even death. Be respectful of the breeding season when parents are busy feeding and protecting their young. The last thing they need is a person calling attention to their burrow, nest or den. Let's work together to protect our wildlife for future generations!

3 people like this
Posted by Rebecca Shapley
a resident of Rex Manor
on Sep 22, 2011 at 11:14 pm

I'm so happy to hear of so many people working to bring the owls back. Keep up the good work!

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