California burrowing owls have been declining in numbers significantly enough that one conservation advocate said they could disappear altogether in California, “We’ve seen a 27% drop in one year alone. If there is a similar drop next year, this bird could disappear in California, ” said Jeff Miller, from the Center for Biological Diversity. (Source: LA Times) The nine-to-eleven-inch tall owls are not protected as endangered or threatened.
Conversion of their habitat to residential and commercial development is playing a role in their decline, as well as extermination of ground squirrels. Burrowing owls inhabit vacated ground squirrel burrows, and without those they are more vulnerable to predation and have a more difficult time raising chicks.
Domestic animals also prey on them. Sometimes they also are shot by humans. About half of the breeding pairs live in agricultural areas of the Imperial Valley.
The State of California’s Dept. of Fish and Game has published some puzzling information about the birds. They state, “Preliminary BBS analyses of regional patterns within California detected declines in some regions of California, but increases in the Imperial Valley (DeSante et al. 2007, C. Conway pers. comm.)” (Source: Page 4 of 10)
In other words, their official burrow owl profile states there was a population increase in Imperial Valley. The Center for Biological Diversity implies the State buried the information about the large decline in Imperial Valley burrowing owls, in a 265 page report titled 2009 ANNUAL REPORT OF IMPERIAL IRRIGATION DISTRICT. In this report it says, “The results indicate a decline of approximately 27 percent in population from 2007 to 2008.” (Page 176)
It seems more than a little strange one government document could say burrowing owls had increased, but another one says they decreased, in the same area.
In 2003 the California burrowing owl was rejected legal protection for itself or its habitat, even though, according to the Center for Biological Diversity, the owls have been nearly eliminated from the following California counties: Sonoma, Napa, Marin, western Contra Costa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego.
The website journowl.com goes further, stating the CA Dept. of Fish and Game is catering to commercial land developers, suggesting the reason the owls won’t be listed as threatened or endangered and have their habitat protected, is due to the large amount of money involved in converting natural lands to commercial and residential uses, “They are trying to quickly revise it [report] without the input of CA Dept. of Fish and Game burrowing owl experts to allow developers to do what they want to do.” The burrowing owl situation in California sounds similar to the one for the Sprague’s Pipit, a bird that also is in serious decline, but has no legal protections as endangered, possibly due to the pressure from the oil and natural gas industry.
Image Credit: Dori