Twenty-nine western burrowing owl chicks are currently nestled in the soil tunnels of northern San Jose, according to city officials.
It’s a record rebound for the owls, a California Bird Species of Special Concern. Only a couple owls lived in the bufferland zone of the San José-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility in 2012. Today, under a collaborative conservation plan spearheaded by the city, the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society and San Jose State University’s Environmental Studies department, these chicks dwell with 13 other adult owls in a 180-acre protected habitat.
“It’s heartening to see that we can take fairly simple steps to help a species avoid becoming endangered,” said Kerrie Romanow, San Jose's environmental services director.
Habitat loss has been a major reason for the depletion of these owls, but the new model features “preferred soil and a low grass height" that should help in sustaining Silicon Valley’s burrowing owl species, according to environmental specialist Stephanie Green.
The site has also flourished as a haven for other wildlife ranging from migratory birds to the rare Congdon’s Tar Plant. Audubon project manager Joshua McCluskey notes that he sees “as many as 30 or 40 bird species on the site” per week.
San Jose is the only site where all breeding pairs raised four or more chicks. Staff was “astonished” that over half the pairs were raising more than five. In comparison, only half of the pairs are raising chicks at all at other Bay Area sites.
“What’s happening here at the San Jose site is amazing—it’s the only place where we are seeing this rapid growth,” said Audubon specialist Dr. Shani Kleinhaus. “San Jose’s project is a model for other conservation efforts."