If and when the Burrowing Owls come to the park, many lucky park visitors have the opportunity to watch them. At the same time, the owls are watching us. They are checking us out to see if it’s safe for them to settle down in our company.
Burrowing Owls are in trouble in California. Suburban development has decimated their nesting habitat. By some estimates, their population is down by 80 percent since the turn of the century. There are no more breeding pairs in the Bay Area. The owls we see are migrants, coming down from the frozen north to spend the winter in our comparatively balmy climate. This is their Florida. They’ll fly home again by mid-March.
In the past decade, a handful of owls have visited and stayed for the season each year, except in the winter of 2017-18, when there were none. The following year, as many as eight or ten visited and stayed for a little while. Only two stayed on for the season. See the movie about their return.
How can we persuade more of these fascinating and lovely creatures to stay and allow us to watch them?
The most important thing is to keep dogs on leash. The area where the owls perch when they are here is outside the dog park (“Off Leash Area”). No dog is lawfully off leash in the neighborhood of an owl. Most dog owners respect the law and are keen to protect and preserve wildlife. Don’t be part of the minority who don’t care.
Good park management is also important. Stewardship of Burrowing Owl habitat means preserving tall shoreline vegetation as a shelter for the birds, mowing weeds and grasses, maintaining the fence around the intended Burrowing Owl preserve, setting up additional protective fencing where called for, and reminding park visitors that the owls are here and deserve our protection and respect.
As a Chavez Park Conservancy member, you will keep your dog on leash everywhere in the park except in the 17-acre dog park (“Off Leash Area”). You may remind negligent dog owners of the law and urge them to show concern for wildlife. You may keep an eye out for Burrowing Owls during their migrating season (October through March) and report your sightings. You may educate yourself about the owls and take an active role in helping other park visitors see and appreciate these threatened birds. You will be a friend of the owls — the kind of park user who makes the owls feel safe to settle.
If you care about Burrowing Owls, become a Conservancy Member.