By the Numbers: 54 percent
It’s been a banner year for burrowing owls, which have been boinking their way to a better tomorrow. Thanks to a habitat conservation plan at the San Jose-Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility, the local population of this particularly adorable bird breed shot up by 54 percent in just the past year.
Avian experts counted 20 adults and 46 chicks since breeding began this past spring. That’s up from 13 adults and 27 chicks in 2014 and 13 adults, 12 chicks the year prior. Though not endangered, the western burrowing owl is listed as a “species of special concern” after decades of population declines. The dirt dwellers used to rear their mottled brown heads all over the place. Cowboys called them “howdy birds” because of the way they seemed to nod in greeting from their little cubbyholes. But by 2012, they had become a rare sight.
A few years ago, San Jose's wastewater facility staff teamed up with the Audobon Society and San Jose State University to make a 180-acre buffer as hospitable to the birds as possible. Because burrowing owls are squatters who would rather nest in a ready-made hole than build one of their own, that meant making the land appealing to ground squirrels, too.