Dirty Birds: Burrowing Owls Get Busy Thanks to Habitat Plan

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.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. 45 percent of land in California is owned by the federal government. 84.5 percent of Nevada land is federal land.

    Why is it necessary to encumber valuable Silicon Valley property for these “non endangered” birds?

    If they’re squatters, let the Audobon society dig burrows for them on the VAST government lands all over the western United States and leave endangered tax payers in peace.

    • Yeah! And, they’re not even good eatin’!!! If it was a cow on public land, then we’d have somethin’ to talk about!

  2. Fantastic news. I’m proud of our region saving our local wildlife for future generations to appreciate, instead of mindlessly imitating Los Angeles sprawl and cover every inch with pavement or grass lawns.

  3. Burrowing owls: too lazy to build a nest in a tree or dig their own holes to live in, so the government wastes precious taxpayer money to build homes for them. However, they are not too lazy to breed. Sound familiar? As expected, Jenn failed to disclose how much taxpayer money was wasted on these lazy copulaters.

    • How much money was wasted? Whatever number that is…don’t forget to include Measure O money that was supposed to pay for a regional police training facility and SJPD police academy on the land occupied by the owls… what an interesting grand jury investigation that could be.

  4. The land in question is not “owned by” the City of San Jose. It is owned and managed by the Tributary Agencies of the San Jose/Santa Clara Regional Wastewater Facility. These agencies include the cities of San Jose, Santa Clara, Milpitas, and the Cupertino Sanitary District, West Valley Sanitation District, and several smaller sanitary districts. Any planned use of this property must get unanimous agreement from all these organizations. The City of San Jose cannot take unilateral action and do what they wish with this land. Any uses for this land must be beneficial to all the Tributary Agencies. How do owls fit into this? Beats me.

    The plans for the Regional Police Training Center was cancelled because all of the Tributary Agencies could not agree on building it on this property.

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