New hope for city's burrowing owls | April 6, 2012 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - April 6, 2012

New hope for city's burrowing owls

Council indicates it will support a plan to save the Shoreline birds

by Daniel DeBolt

Burrowing owls being driven close to extinction by development pressures may have a chance of survival under a new plan that aims to preserve 300 acres of owl habitat inside Mountain View's Shoreline Park.

In a study session last week, five city council members expressed support for the plan, which was also lauded by members of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society.

Last year three pairs of owls hatched 10 chicks, which is lower than good years, such as the 22 chicks hatched in 2003. Under the new plan, the city has now proposed goals for increasing the number of breeding pairs to 10.

Shoreline Park hosts one of the largest groups of the owls in the region, where their numbers overall have been declining since the 1980s. But city staff say they have found the key to increasing their numbers.

"Mountain View hates to underachieve and I hate the fact we are underachieving with the burrowing owls," said council member Laura Macias. "It is easy to make fun of the goofy little creatures, but we really do want to save them."

Hunting grounds are the key

City staff members say that until recently, preservation efforts focused on nesting habitat for the owls, including the construction of artificial burrows. But biologists have determined that a lack of decent hunting grounds is the real key to their decline.

City biologist Phil Higgins told the council that the owls are currently subsisting too much on insects and the area needs to be attractive to owl prey, such as mice and voles, and ground squirrels, which dig the burrows that the owls live in. City staff has been surprised to see that piles of buildings materials such as stacks of pipes, have created great foraging grounds for the owls.

"If you want quality habitat you need taller vegetation," to allow rodents, Higgins told the council.

But once vegetation grows around their nests past nine inches, the owls can no longer see predators and will abandon their burrows, Higgins added. The danger of tall grass is why many owls prefer to live on the manicured golf course, although "golf balls have killed at least one owl," said Public Works Director Mike Fuller.

To address their habitat needs, city staff proposed fencing in certain areas where informal trails have allowed burrows and foraging grounds to be disturbed. Vegetation would also be planted to encourage rodents, mowing would be done around their burrows and signs would be placed in key areas to keep people at a distance. City workers and contractors will continue to be trained in how to deal with the owls, which may be crucial as areas that are damaged can take up to two years to recover, said Fuller.

The proposal would preserve 100 acres of Shoreline Park's 750 acres as high-quality nesting habitat, another 100 acres as high-quality foraging habitat and another 100 acres as medium-quality foraging and nesting habitat.

City staff members say that under the new plan they aim to see 10 breeding pairs a year, each producing at least three chicks. They also want to see an increase in the number of pairs which are breeding successfully to between 50 and 75 percent.

The expense for the entire project would be $15,000, and come from the Shoreline Community Fund. The only critic of the expense was council member John Inks, while other members described it as a good value. Member Tom Means was absent.

"Mountain View has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into mitigation" for the owls, Inks said. "It's a little hard to tell how effective that has been or how effective additional steps will be."

New preserves

To ensure that there will be plenty of space for the owls, the city has proposed large new preserve areas, including much of Shoreline Park's northeastern meadows and Crittenden Hill, which is near Google's Crittenden campus. That is in addition to filling in two ponds at Shoreline Golf Links to provide less habitat for nuisance waterfowl and more foraging grounds for the owls.

There's also the "whale pit," a nine-acre lot along Shoreline Boulevard just north of the kite flying area, which is currently used to store piles of gravel, sand and other materials. One of the few potential building sites in the park, it was a potential site for the city's failed attempts to build a convention center. Council members seemed happy giving it to the owls.

"Inside the park I have no interest in building anything," said council member Ronit Bryant.

The whale pit is one of the few parts of the park not filled with landfill, which means the owls won't be disturbed by maintenance crews who go around patching methane gas leaks in the landfill's clay cap or filling in settled areas with dirt to prevent puddles from forming on parts of the landfill.

A sign and owl viewing area near the "whale pit" has also been discussed, Fuller said, allowing visitors to take a trail from the parking lot in the kite-flying area to see the owls. The owls could be Mountain View's version of "Old Faithful" for tourists, joked Mayor Mike Kasperzak.

Conservationists approve

Wildlife conservationists turned out to support the plan, which some said could reverse the trend of a declining owl population.

"As a person who spent their entire life dedicated to bird conservation I think this plan is outstanding," said Stephanie Ellis of the San Francisco Bay Area Bird Observatory. "It is putting Mountain View on the map. It could reverse the trend."

"Having a full time biologist on staff will make this a success," said the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society's Shani Kleinhaus, who has worked with the city on the plan for over a year. Kleinhaus said a dedicated mower was also a necessity for the biologist, who must pay "a lot of attention to details."

City staff members say a full-time biologist is a possibility, but for now they are proposing to train another wildlife biologist on staff to help Higgins with the owls.

Email Daniel DeBolt at


Posted by curious, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 5, 2012 at 5:27 pm

"Mountain View has poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into mitigation" for the owls"

This is outrageous. In the mean time, the pension funds for city employees are underfunded because of the promises that past councils made to the government unions. Guess who will be on the hook when the city finances blow up?

Oh, well. There nothing that's more fun than spending other people's money.

Posted by Dotty, a resident of Monta Loma
on Apr 6, 2012 at 11:43 am

Thanks so much to the City of Mountain View for understanding the relationship between the health of the ecosystems of Mountain View and the health of the City and people who live here. Being able to see our Burrowing Owl population grow and thrive is so exciting! Thank you, thank you!

Posted by Matthew Dodder, a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 6, 2012 at 11:44 am

I want to thank city council members Laura Macias, Jac Siegel, Mike Kasperzak, Ronit Bryant, and Margaret Abe Kobe for their continued commitment and leadership in the struggle to preserve our community's natural resources. Mountain View is a leader in our region in creating a landscape where people, animals and businesses thrive. Burrowing Owls are in need of our help, and the City Council has bravely offered its hand. Without efforts like theirs, precious wildlife will be lost for our children to enjoy. Well done!

Posted by caryl, a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:33 pm

It is wonderful to see Mountain View taking a leadership role in our region in creating a landscape where people and businesses thrive while protecting natural resources. I hope that other cities around the Bay Area follow this great example.

Posted by Eric Rosenberg, a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm

As a frequent visitor to the Shoreline area I would like to thank Ronit Bryant, Mike Kasperzak, Margaret Abe Koga and Laura Macias, Jac Siegel, for their commitment to the cause of preserving wild life and especially the Owls in the Shoreline area. This also shows that Mountain View and Others can allow development while protecting the local wildlife. Thanks to their dedication there will be wildlife for other ro enjoy in the future along with reasons for people to visit Shoreline and the various businesses in the area.

Posted by A. Marlin, a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2012 at 3:49 pm

As a resident of San Mateo, I'm pleased to see the City Council of a neighboring community taking steps to preserve its wildlife. Without land set aside for the burrowing owls and other species, our quality of life will quickly deteriorate. Thank you Mountain View city council members Laura Macias, Jac Siegel, Mike Kasperzak, Ronit Bryant, and Margaret Abe Koga for your caring, commitment and leadership. This is uplifting news!

Posted by Marti Wright, a resident of Martens-Carmelita
on Apr 6, 2012 at 4:39 pm

I attended the council meeting several times when this subject was bought up for study. I am very pleased that the City Council members think that there is room for the Burrowing Owls and other wildlife at Shoreline Park. This is an area that is important for visitors and residents alike to enjoy. The diversity that resides there is important as more and more wild areas are being removed from wildlife use. Thank you City Council for your careing commitment for all to enjoy Shoreline Park.

Posted by Ruth Troetschler, a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2012 at 5:12 pm

Thank you Mountain View for continuing to protect Bay Area Burrowing Owls. The city government of Mountain View has shown leadership on this issue for many years, and hopefully will continue to lead the way for other Bay Area communities so our owls will continue to thrive. The present plan is much more sophisticated than previous plans since scientists who have studied the needs of the owls are involved. Hopefully the new prey habitat will allow more owls to thrive in smaller space.

Posted by curious, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 6, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Thank you to Mountain View City councilmen John Inks and Tom Means for the thankless job of trying to maintain fiscal sanity in this city. Regardless of the gushing platitudes about the "environment" Mountain View will not be able to maintain basic services much less frivolity like the burrowing owls boondoggle when it is bankrupt. Ask the people of Vallejo and Stockton about their environment.

Another thing, have any of you greens ever actually seen a burrowing owl? I think these were invented by the watermelons to extract money from Mountain View taxpayers.

Posted by curious, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 6, 2012 at 9:14 pm

BTW, I pass through Shoreline Park often during duck hunting season and I have never seen a burrowing owl.

Posted by Susana Dora, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 6, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Response to curious:
The City of Mountain view is required by law to mitigate for development of burrowing owl habitat. Instead of paying hundreds of thousand of dollars to a "mitigation bank" in Alameda County, the City chose to invest the funds in Shoreline at Mountain View.
And yes, there are burrowing owls at Shoreline. There used to be hundreds of owls in the south bay, but as development encroached on their habitat, they became rare. If the plan that the City is implementing is successful you'd be able to see them soon.

Posted by Mary Alice, a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 7, 2012 at 12:09 am

Thank you for continuing to value and protect Shoreline Park and its wonderful diversity. I have lived in the area for over 20 years and continue to be amazed every time I get to see the owls. The idea of an observation spot and continued training for existing staff to help ensure the protection and improvement of habitat for the burrowing owls is wonderful news. Thank you all for trying to ensure that the owls survive and hopefully thrive in our area.

Posted by Mary Alice, a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 7, 2012 at 7:00 am

I also wanted to mention that the idea of getting more staff at Shoreline would be wonderful....its a shame the welcome entry booth is not opened more often and it would be wonderful if we could have more staff on hand to help not only protect the area, but help educate the public. I am stunned to learn that there are people in our area who seem to be convinced that the owls don't currently even exist in our area.....a frightening thought because so much damage is sometimes done because of ignorance. I thank you again for your continued efforts to protect our environment and your time and work to try to get more trained biologist/ecologists/scientists/educators on board.

Posted by curious, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2012 at 10:25 am

"The City of Mountain view is required by law to mitigate for development of burrowing owl habitat. Instead of paying hundreds of thousand of dollars to a "mitigation bank" in Alameda County, the City chose to invest the funds in Shoreline at Mountain View. "

And this is supposed to make me feel better exactly how?? So instead of paying one extortionist, the taxpayers get to waste their money on futile efforts for a creature with as much reality for most of us as a susquatch or a leprechaun.

And by the way, the big spending city council are not heroes. All they are doing is pandering to the soft-headed voters. The heroes, if any, are the taxpayers who are forced to pay their hard earned money for this nonsense.

If the city council wanted to do something real for the Shoreline park environment, they would hire some hunters to kill of the geese that are infesting the park and covering every surface with their excrement.

Heck they would not even have to hire anyone. They would just have to get a cheap plastic trophy and present it to the hunter that kills the most geese. People would come from miles around. After a while, the geese would get the idea and leave and revert to their natural state.

Posted by curious, a resident of Cuesta Park
on Apr 7, 2012 at 10:28 am

Mary Alice wrote: "I also wanted to mention that the idea of getting more staff at Shoreline would be wonderful.."

That does sound like a wonderful idea. Can we count on you for an annual contribution to pay the salary of one of these worthy naturalists?

Posted by Mary Alice, a resident of Rex Manor
on Apr 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm

I would love to have a jacket that had a print of a burrowing owl on it and said in nice italic "Support Burrowing Owls and Naturalists, Shoreline Park, Mountain View, California."

Posted by R.S. Feind, a resident of North Whisman
on Apr 7, 2012 at 2:13 pm

I support the goals of the 2012 Burrowing Owl Preservation Plan. The habitat, population, and preserve goals and action items are based on the recommendations of biologists who have expertise in the behavior and needs of this important species. I would like to thank the Council for its attention to the importance of preserving the burrowing owl habitat and I support the allocation of public funds to implement the plan. I would like to recognize the hard work of city employees in their thoughtful preparation of this plan. The Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society has also provided considerable expertise and community building activities in support of conservation of the owls.

Posted by Helen Armer, a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2012 at 4:39 pm

Congratulations to the city council members of Mountain View for taking a leadership position on conservation. You are leaving something for future generations to enjoy.

Posted by Laurie Bechtler, a resident of Shoreline West
on Apr 9, 2012 at 8:42 pm

I'm a long-time Mountain View resident and also a birder. Shoreline Park is hugely popular with people from all over the Peninsula. For some people, it's the hike and bike trails, for others it's the sailing lake or the golf course. For me (and others) it's the wildlife, and I'm very happy that my city council is willing to preserve and enhance habitat for Shoreline's wildlife.

Posted by Gail Cheeseman, a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2012 at 12:39 pm

Mountain View residents should be proud to find room and a little money for another species of animal like the Burrowing Owl that has become very rare elsewhere in the county, even in Palo Alto that has spent so much money on trying to keep the earth green in places. After all we are animals too, so let's continue to try to save the special ones that are becoming endangered because most of money available does have to go to maintaining the humans who live in this county. Many thanks to the Mountain View City Council members who voted to preserve this very special animal that is barely hanging on in this county!