News

Worries over dwindling burrowing owl population

One among many inhabitants struggling to cope in a changing landscape, Mountain View's fragile burrowing owl population appears to be slumping, raising concern among environmentalists that the species could make an exit from Shoreline Park.

The predatory birds, which are listed as a California species of special concern, inhabit the 750 acres of open space just beyond the North Bayshore tech corridor that's marked for rapid expansion. Tech companies looking to grow, including Google, are required to follow a set of city guidelines meant to protect the owl habitat. But even with those safeguards, bird advocates fear that the presence of thousands more workers and residents in the area will end up harming the bird population.

Shoreline Park's burrowing owl population has hit a new low, said Shani Kleinhaus, an ecologist with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. She points to the Mountain View's latest report, which showed only one successful breeding pair of nesting owls, the smallest number in the last 18 years.

"That's really at the verge of extinction," Kleinhaus said. "We're seeing a lot of disturbance and we think that might be a reason for the decline."

While the owls did have four chicks, there were problems. The breeding pair was a mother and son, a bad sign for the population's future.

Help sustain the local news you depend on.

Your contribution matters. Become a member today.

Join

There are many factors that could explain the low numbers. The owls are ground-nesting, living in holes hollowed out by squirrels. That can leave them vulnerable to a long list of predators, including foxes, skunks and raccoons. Feral cats are considered the worst of the lot, preying on owls as well as the small birds and rodents that make up the owls' main food supply. In fact, a released cat last year ended up mauling one prolific male owl, Kleinhaus said.

Humans can also be a big nuisance for the owls. City parks staffers have installed signs and fencing to cordon off sensitive areas, but hikers sometimes go trailblazing. Shoreline Park prohibits dogs except in an off-leash zone near the entrance, yet some people still untether their canines in other parts of the park.

By the city's count, Shoreline Park has a total of five burrowing owls, although other migratory owls come from the north to spend the colder months there, said Recreation Manager John Marchant. City workers have tried their best to create a suitable habitat for the owls by building artificial owl holes and mowing down the nearby grasses to prevent predators from catching the birds off-guard. In an effort to encourage more natural owl habitat, parks staff sometimes set up squirrel traps around the nearby golf course. The squirrels are later released in areas more suitable for owls, with the idea that they will dig new holes that owls can use.

"We're doing everything in our power to make sure we're not disturbing the owls," Marchant said. "We're putting a lot of time, effort and resources into protecting these species in hopes it'll expand the population within the park."

The burrowing owl is native to a wide area stretching from northern Mexico up to western Canada, yet the population in the South Bay has been declining for decades. The local owl population numbered in the hundreds in the 1990s, but in recent years that number has dropped to around 70 birds.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

Stay informed

Get the latest local news and information sent straight to your inbox.

Why did the population plummet so dramatically? In short, Kleinhaus points to the long history of office development on the bay landfills from Milpitas to Mountain View. She admits she is in a conflicted position in discussing this topic she works as a consultant for Google, advising the company on how to minimize its impacts on the species.

Some public speakers criticized Google's newest planned expansion of its Charleston East campus for setting a dangerous precedent since the project's northwest corner would encroach on the buffer zone of the owl habitat. Yet city officials and Kleinhaus both say the move won't impact the owls since the construction area will be separated from the bird habitat by the four-lane Amphitheatre Parkway.

Overall, Kleinhaus described the push to dramatically expand offices and residences in North Bayshore as "a cause for concern," potentially bringing tens of thousands more humans near the struggling owl population. But she insisted that risks could be counterbalanced.

"Google is looking to mitigate and build habitat for the owl to create places where the population can increase," she said. "If the conditions are right, we think the owls will come back."

Follow Mountain View Voice Online on Twitter @mvvoice, Facebook and on Instagram @mvvoice for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Worries over dwindling burrowing owl population

by Mark Noack / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Nov 15, 2016, 11:01 am

One among many inhabitants struggling to cope in a changing landscape, Mountain View's fragile burrowing owl population appears to be slumping, raising concern among environmentalists that the species could make an exit from Shoreline Park.

The predatory birds, which are listed as a California species of special concern, inhabit the 750 acres of open space just beyond the North Bayshore tech corridor that's marked for rapid expansion. Tech companies looking to grow, including Google, are required to follow a set of city guidelines meant to protect the owl habitat. But even with those safeguards, bird advocates fear that the presence of thousands more workers and residents in the area will end up harming the bird population.

Shoreline Park's burrowing owl population has hit a new low, said Shani Kleinhaus, an ecologist with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. She points to the Mountain View's latest report, which showed only one successful breeding pair of nesting owls, the smallest number in the last 18 years.

"That's really at the verge of extinction," Kleinhaus said. "We're seeing a lot of disturbance and we think that might be a reason for the decline."

While the owls did have four chicks, there were problems. The breeding pair was a mother and son, a bad sign for the population's future.

There are many factors that could explain the low numbers. The owls are ground-nesting, living in holes hollowed out by squirrels. That can leave them vulnerable to a long list of predators, including foxes, skunks and raccoons. Feral cats are considered the worst of the lot, preying on owls as well as the small birds and rodents that make up the owls' main food supply. In fact, a released cat last year ended up mauling one prolific male owl, Kleinhaus said.

Humans can also be a big nuisance for the owls. City parks staffers have installed signs and fencing to cordon off sensitive areas, but hikers sometimes go trailblazing. Shoreline Park prohibits dogs except in an off-leash zone near the entrance, yet some people still untether their canines in other parts of the park.

By the city's count, Shoreline Park has a total of five burrowing owls, although other migratory owls come from the north to spend the colder months there, said Recreation Manager John Marchant. City workers have tried their best to create a suitable habitat for the owls by building artificial owl holes and mowing down the nearby grasses to prevent predators from catching the birds off-guard. In an effort to encourage more natural owl habitat, parks staff sometimes set up squirrel traps around the nearby golf course. The squirrels are later released in areas more suitable for owls, with the idea that they will dig new holes that owls can use.

"We're doing everything in our power to make sure we're not disturbing the owls," Marchant said. "We're putting a lot of time, effort and resources into protecting these species in hopes it'll expand the population within the park."

The burrowing owl is native to a wide area stretching from northern Mexico up to western Canada, yet the population in the South Bay has been declining for decades. The local owl population numbered in the hundreds in the 1990s, but in recent years that number has dropped to around 70 birds.

Why did the population plummet so dramatically? In short, Kleinhaus points to the long history of office development on the bay landfills from Milpitas to Mountain View. She admits she is in a conflicted position in discussing this topic she works as a consultant for Google, advising the company on how to minimize its impacts on the species.

Some public speakers criticized Google's newest planned expansion of its Charleston East campus for setting a dangerous precedent since the project's northwest corner would encroach on the buffer zone of the owl habitat. Yet city officials and Kleinhaus both say the move won't impact the owls since the construction area will be separated from the bird habitat by the four-lane Amphitheatre Parkway.

Overall, Kleinhaus described the push to dramatically expand offices and residences in North Bayshore as "a cause for concern," potentially bringing tens of thousands more humans near the struggling owl population. But she insisted that risks could be counterbalanced.

"Google is looking to mitigate and build habitat for the owl to create places where the population can increase," she said. "If the conditions are right, we think the owls will come back."

Comments

Dave
Cuesta Park
on Nov 15, 2016 at 3:30 pm
Dave, Cuesta Park
on Nov 15, 2016 at 3:30 pm

Time for the owls to go. The population has crashed with only one breeding pair remaining, and given it's a mother-son, it's a bad genetic bottleneck. with all the feral cats, foxes, hawks, dogs and other predators, they aren't going to survive in this area. I enjoyed seeing them while they were here and am sorry to see them go. But it's not worth the effort, and their population survives elsewhere.


oldtime
Old Mountain View
on Nov 15, 2016 at 5:27 pm
oldtime, Old Mountain View
on Nov 15, 2016 at 5:27 pm

The City of Mountain View has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past several years for wildlife biologists, mitigation actions, etc to save a few owls THAT ARE NOT ENDANGERED. It is absurd. The past several City Councils have been puppets of Ms Kleinhaus, who is a fanatic. Goodbye owls. Don't blame the people or begin another witch hunt for cats; the City spent over $100,000 in City staff time and equipment such as infrared cameras posted along creeks in the City to determine cats were not the problem.

Time for Mountain View to focus on finding solutions to real problems.


Hope
North Bayshore
on Nov 15, 2016 at 9:11 pm
Hope, North Bayshore
on Nov 15, 2016 at 9:11 pm

Thank You, Shani Kleinhaus for all your efforts to save the owls. Obviously from the comments above,Dave and oldtime there is a selfish, uncaring feeling that will allow continued extinctions and environmental degradation to occur- Shame on you and all of us for letting this happen.

We have met the enemy and he is us- Pogo


A senior Veteran
Monta Loma
on Nov 16, 2016 at 8:07 am
A senior Veteran, Monta Loma
on Nov 16, 2016 at 8:07 am

@oldtime-
Sounds exactly like Lenny- it's what he screamed at me- So much for him being an environmentalist. How many more rats and mice will there be!

If it's not him - Let's hear from him or his organization Web Link
which takes our tax dollars for what?


the_punnisher
Registered user
Whisman Station
on Nov 16, 2016 at 10:01 am
the_punnisher, Whisman Station
Registered user
on Nov 16, 2016 at 10:01 am

The small animals they feed on are not in place anymore in the SFBA. Just trap and release them in Colorado to feed on the prairie dog ( rodent ) population in Colorado. that would be the humane thing to do at this point. There is a thriving burrowing owl population there.


Resident
Old Mountain View
on Nov 16, 2016 at 10:15 am
Resident, Old Mountain View
on Nov 16, 2016 at 10:15 am

Burrowing owls are a common bird, with a huge range in the Americas, and the Bay Area is on the very edge of their habitat range. Check out the map here, for example: Web Link

I really don't see why we treat them differently than pigeons or crows.


Phill
Shoreline West
on Nov 16, 2016 at 6:47 pm
Phill, Shoreline West
on Nov 16, 2016 at 6:47 pm

Phil the owl guy at Shoreline has no ckue whst hes doing. Over paid to identify native weeds?!?!? Give me a break...hes a waste if city money. Time for the owls and phil to fly away !!!!!


Victoria
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2016 at 10:36 am
Victoria, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Dec 4, 2016 at 10:36 am

Rodenticide is also destroying populations of owl and other birds of prey. Use snap traps, please!


Xa
Cuernavaca
on Dec 8, 2016 at 10:35 pm
Xa, Cuernavaca
on Dec 8, 2016 at 10:35 pm

Save these owls!! Giving up their breeding grounds for more useless, empty office buildings would create a bleak, dead landscape of despair. We need those owls. They control rodents and they are cherished creatures here in Mountain View. Didn't anyone read The Lorax? Quit killing off nature around here.


Name hidden
Cuesta Park

on Feb 24, 2017 at 8:39 am
Name hidden, Cuesta Park

on Feb 24, 2017 at 8:39 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.