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Burrowing Owl Protection

Recent estimates by the Institute for Bird Populations suggest that the Burrowing Owl is declining throughout the state. The San Francisco Bay Area, historically one of four primary Burrowing Owl nesting areas in California, has suffered steep population declines in recent years. Once a common sight in the Bay Area, the number of these owls has now declined to only forty pairs.

Our Environmental Advocate (Shani Kleinhaus), Burrowing Owl Project Manager (Josh McCluskey), and the Environmental Action Committee have been diligently advocating for the preservation, restoration and enhancement of the Burrowing Owl and its habitat in our cities along the bay.

Burrowing Owl Update

by Josh McCluskey, Burrowing Owl Project Manager.
Published in the September/October 2015 Avocet.

Over the last 20 years the western Burrowing Owl has been disappearing from our local landscape. The once-common sight and sound, frequently eliciting amusement at its rambunctious behavior, often eludes the new generation of birders in Silicon Valley. Many Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society members have worked hard for over a decade to preserve open space habitat for this species. When it seemed like the struggle might be lost, the City of San Jose partnered with SCVAS to manage the last large unpaved property in North San Jose, giving us a chance to apply conservation science on the buffer lands of the Regional Wastewater Facility (RWF).

For the last 18 months a grant from the City of San Jose has allowed me the privilege to work for SCVAS and follow in the footsteps of its passionate members. With the help of biologist Phil Higgins and many SCVAS volunteers, we've achieved some wonderful results on this 200 acre site. Our hard work is beginning to pay off as the Burrowing Owl population at the RWF has been steadily increasing over the past 2 years. Last year 6 pairs of burrowing owls produced 27 chicks, and this year 10 pairs produced 43. One pair successfully fledged 8 chicks this year as well, a rare occurrence in the Bay Area.

Burrowing Owl Stealth Cam
Burrowing Owl Stealth Cam

The great achievements we have accomplished should be celebrated as a bright spot in Burrowing Owl conservation efforts. But as development pressures and habitat loss within the county continue to increase, and overall populations continue to decrease, preventing the local extinction of this unique animal will take more of our efforts and support. For example, one of the only remaining suitable habitats outside of North San Jose is in the South County (Coyote Valley to the Pajaro River), where a few wintering Burrowing Owls can be found. This area is under increasing pressure from local development agencies to build new homes for county residents. So the work of protecting suitable and historic habitat must continue.

Together we have proven that challenges can be overcome and that it's still possible for the Burrowing Owl to once again be a common sight, and entertain future generations.


Updated August 2015

Burrowing Owl © Tom Grey
Help Burrowing Owls © Tom Grey

How you can help!

• SCVAS organized the Burrowing Owl Advocates to preserve and enhance local burrowing owl populations. Contact our SCVAS Environmental Advocate at to volunteer and speak or write to advocate the land protection, monitor owl populations, and educate the public about the plight of the Burrowing Owl.

• You can help with these or other projects that interest you by becoming a Volunteer for Conservation. We have many ways that you can help from simply speaking out as part of our Conservation Action Alert Network to joining our Environmental Action Committee (EAC).

• Make a tax-deductible donation to support this and other local conservation efforts.

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