Burrowing owls need a lot of help

A pair of burrowing owls are nesting in a vacant commercial lot at the east end of Davis.
A pair of burrowing owls are nesting in a vacant commercial lot at the east end of Davis.

The Institute for Bird Populations conducted burrowing owl censuses in the early 1980s, 1990s and 2007. Each census has shown a decline in California’s burrowing owl population. Twelve counties that historically hosted burrowing owls now have none.

Dan Morain identified an East Davis location as a precarious choice for a pair raising their young in a development area, and wrote that the property owner cannot develop the land without taking care of the owls. (“Burrowing owls pick a precarious home,” Op Image, June 13).

I often read newspaper articles saying the owls are state and federally protected. This may lead readers to believe that there is some law enforcement that would ensure the owls can remain undisturbed and live happily ever after. This is not true.

Even though burrowing owls have “species of special concern” status under the California Department of Fish and Wildlife codes and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, there is virtually no enforcement of protections that these laws might confer.

Usually, when a developer applies for a permit for land occupied by burrowing owls, the condition of the permit includes mitigation for lost burrowing owl habitat. This mitigation can be a payment to a mitigation bank, miles away, that is not even managed for burrowing owls.

Because one cannot kill burrowing owls outright, they are evicted. The Department of Fish and Wildlife accepts eviction plans from developers’ consultants that include placing one-way doors on occupied burrows, so when the owl leaves, it cannot get back in.

The department calls this “passive relocation.” It is actually active eviction, and the department’s own staff has suggested this practice likely results in the deaths of the evicted owls.

At the end of August, the young in the East Davis burrow will disperse. Where will they go? If they make it past the BBs, beer cans, traffic, shopping mall and house cats, it is three miles to Davis’ Wildhorse agricultural buffer.

If the citizens of Davis are successful in persuading the city to mow the grass, the young may stay, find a mate and repopulate the ag buffer and golf course.

Portman is chairwoman of the Burrowing Owl Preservation Society in Yolo County. Reach her at