Burrowing owls in a den of iniquity

Burrowing owl on wall

I can’t seem to have it both ways.  It’s simply a matter of fact that I have been left with choosing between partially undeveloped land that is on the road to becoming a neighborhood blight and a housing tract that will force the mitigation of a California species of special concern.  And when I say choosing I absolutely have no control over the outcome, but is actually limited to a personal thought on what I would ultimately like to see happen with this property.

Firstly, a few years back just prior to the housing bubble explosion, the land in question was prepped for future housing through the installation of paved roads, sidewalks, street lights, and all the usual things needed to feed a house with water and electricity.  But, before all of the land had been transformed into a functioning neighborhood, the builder ceased development for all the reasons dominating the news over the last year or so.

For me, all was well and good because over time wildlife returned to this partially undeveloped fenced acreage that was now a suitable place to observe local wildlife in action. Coyotes, rabbits, burrowing owls, ground squirrels, hawks, kestrels, and the list goes on, it was actually a beacon in a rather dreary economic mess as it afforded me a personal wildlife refuge in walking distance from my home.And for just about 2 years now my private refuge was secure, that is until the chain link fence was removed due to a transfer in ownership from one developer to another.  The once protected habitat was now open to the public and the burrowing owls that stood watch in the middle of the streets were now dodging cars, off-roading vehicles and curious dogs.

As time is moving forward, apparently this paved unmanned land is now attracting all sorts of illicit activities and upsetting a population of at least 5 pairs of nesting burrowing owls. Formerly protected from traffic, many of the burrows are now directly in harm’s way as they are adjacent to the street in a patch of dirt separating the blacktop from the sidewalk.  And yes the situation is ruffling my feathers.

3 Burrowing Owls on a wall

Illegal dumping, graffiti, alcohol, sex, fireworks, street racing, off-roading and all the other usual suspects are infiltrating this area because of its remoteness and protection from prying eyes.  The word is obviously getting out that the partially functioning streetlights provide the perfect opportunity to conduct oneself inappropriately under the shadows of the night in an otherwise new and clean neighborhood.  Not to mention, since the removal of the surrounding fence the wildlife activity has been on a sharp decline, except for the burrowing owls that are in the midst of rearing young.

And as I posed in the beginning, I am left with wondering what I would rather have: More housing and no burrowing owls, or a pseudo burrowing owl habitat that is in the beginning stages of being plagued by those who do not care about the aesthetics of their city let alone the wildlife.

With a few additional letters in the ready for the city, police department, project manager, and California Department of Fish and Game, perhaps I can get more action to protect the people and owls alike.

I’ll continue to provide updates as well as my latest observations on the owls.  In fact, just this weekend I came across 4 additional owls that I had not previously observed.

For my other post concerning a different group of burrowing owls, check out Burrowing Owls and Manifest Destiny.

Burrowing Owl- Sidewalk burrow


Burrowing owl in the middle of street

Burrowing Owl in the street

About The Author

Scott serves as Director of Development & Communications for Audubon Canyon Ranch (focusing on preservation, education and conservation science) and has almost fifteen years of experience spanning for-profit and nonprofit sectors in biotech, wildlife conservation and management, communications, and philanthropy. In addition to a strong track record in organizational growth and leadership, he is the founder of Urban Bird Foundation and Burrowing Owl Conservation Network, and presided over ECHO Fund, a coastal protection and restoration organization, as President for four years. Scott holds an M.A. in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Sustainable Development and Policy, degrees in Micro & Molecular Biology and Environmental Sciences, and has complemented his studies with a Master's certificate in Environmental Resource Management.

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  1. Larry Jordan

    You are really hitting home with this birder Scott. You see, the Burrowing Owl was my spark bird. The bird that got me hooked on birding. See my post here.

    I wonder what the chances are that a new developer would want that fence back up if they knew what was going on with the trashing of the neighborhood? There has got to be something that can be done when this species is threatened or of special concern in California.

    I am hoping to start a Burrowing Owl habitat project in Northern California where this species is losing ground. I have found at least one property owner that will put aside some land for habitat and I hope to get started this fall. Feel free to contact me if you have any special knowledge that may assist me in this project.

    I hope your situation there gets better or there is some place to relocate the owls. Keep us updated will ya? Thanks.

  2. Andrew Baksh

    I don’t know how you got through that post…I could only imagine the emotions that you were going through. This reminds me of the Calverton Grassland struggle that is ongoing around my part of the world.

    Whatever we can all do to help to fight the good fight, just say the word and I will do what I can to help. Please keep us posted on any new developments.

    1. Scott

      It was actually quite difficult and took longer than I anticipated. It is a sad situation all around, but I hope persistence will pay off for the owls. It is so irritating when I visit the site and see garbage and other junk that has been dumped next to their burrows. I am hoping a contact I made through the Department of Fish and Game will be able to provide some guidance as well.

  3. Scott

    Thanks Larry! I am actually in contact with the city as well as the developer regarding the reinstallation of the fence….appealing to their wallets this round by broaching the subject of Liability.

    Hopefully that will get some action. The burrowing owls are great and full of personality which has definitely intrigued my wife and I.

    That is great news on the Burrowing Owl habitat project and I will be happy to follow up with you.

  4. Pat

    Very interesting post.

    There is a similar situation in a halted development near Coolidge, AZ. The burrowing owls have moved into an area with streets laid out, and nothing else done before the developer packed it in.

    Do they pick these places because they prefer them, or because there are few natural nesting sites left?

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  6. Johnny

    Excellant post and great blog site (both the writing and design). I was previously involved with Burrowing Owl conservation issues in Marco Island, Florida – really brought back some memories…

    Also, thanks for the listing under Favorite Blogs.

    I’ve added JournOwl to my blog roll – keep at it!

  7. Scott

    Hi Pat,

    That is definitely interesting to hear you had a similar experience with the owls repopulating an area in the midst of development. Something does seem to draw them back, but I am not sure what it is either. Perhaps they are simply returning home after construction stalls/ceases…

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  9. Michelle

    Your post brings tears to my eyes. I’m in Santa Clara County where the situation for burrowing owls is dire as well. Thank you for watching over the owls.

    1. Scott

      It is most definitely a sad situation Michelle. And as you indicate this is not just an East Bay issue but a Bay Area and Statewide issue.

      It appears to be universally accepted that the population is in decline yet we continue to approve more and more developments without taking habitat planning and conservation into account. Combined with poor eviction procedures being approved by the CDFG, it is no wonder that the Institute for Bird Populations found a 50% population decline in burrowing owls in the Bay Area.


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