Burrowing Away

By Keanna Harrison, Intern

I knew it was about time to start coming up with ideas for my next article, but I had no idea what I wanted to write on. I recently got the opportunity to volunteer with the Audubon Society to enhance the habitat for the Burrowing Owls at Shoreline Park, in hope of increasing the numbers of nesting pairs. By getting the chance to physically see their habitat degraded I became emotional. In fact, knowing that there are only 3 nesting pairs left in Shoreline Park prompted me to write this piece. In all, there are less than 40 nesting pairs of Burrowing Owls living in Santa Clara Valley. I was intrigued and wanted to find out more about this beautifully imperiled bird…

The Burrowing Owl is a small owl standing at about 10 inches and weighing on average 6 ounces. This bird in itself is rare because it does not live in a tree like other owls, but occupies the burrows of other animals. They prefer low ground cover and browse for food in various habitats, including cropland, prairie dog colonies, fallow fields, and sparse grass areas. Unlike other owl species, burrowing owls are typically active during the day, especially when they gather food for their young. They tend to eat small mammals such as moles and mice; as well as arthropods, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and occasionally grasshoppers and beetles. Historically, they range from California and New Mexico to Colorado and Mexico during breeding and migration periods. Burrowing owls are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and in California are a Species of Concern because their numbers are declining. Burrowing owls are threatened by habitat loss due to intensive agricultural and urban development, grazing, and elimination of burrowing rodents, which happens to be the primary factor in recent declines.

I am just happy to know that I had some kind of positive effect in helping to restore their habitat because this bird is of importance to Santa Clara county.