YOLO COUNTY (CBS13) — With construction and development, burrowing owls are losing their homes.
Drive along a country road and if you look closely, you’ll see a burrowing owl making their home underground along ditches and roads. They are small creatures — just half a pound and the size of a teacup — and their ability to blend into their environment helps and hurts them.
Catherine Portman with the Burrowing Owl Preservation Society says habitat loss, such as housing developments and farming operations, is to blame.
“We have had trouble with construction workers… because they’ve got their big equipment and stuff and they are not looking for a little bird in a hole in the ground,” Portman said.
She has seen a 76% decline in owl populations in Yolo County. In 2007, there were 63 detected nesting pairs, by 2014 there were only 15.
“You gotta stand up for the little guy,” Portman said.
She is trying to get the city of Davis to manage a city-owned parcel of land along Mace Boulevard to help protect the owls.
“Because the owls need short vegetation to be able to see their prey and to see their predators coming, they’re in the food chain too,” Portman said.
She discussed the issue at the open space and habitat commission meeting on Monday. But the city says it may not fall in line with their land-use plan.
“So if you are taking habitat and you want to change it to be more favorable for owls, you have to go in and remove vegetation, you have to be real harsh on the management and then that turns it into a condition that’s really only suitable for only a handful of species,” John McNerney, City of Davis Wildlife Resource specialist, said.
The challenge is paying for it.
“It’s not an easy ask of a municipality that doesn’t have special taxes that goes to funding single-species management,” McNerney said.
The city wants to set aside a portion of a nearby ag buffer for the owls. It is a strategy that has not always worked in other counties because of something called site fidelity.
“That’s for breeding, the site fidelity, if they’re successful in a burrow one year they’ll come back to that the next year,” Portman said.
Another issue is rodenticides used in the orchards nearby, which is possibly poisoning a food source for the owl. So the city is trying to work with farmers on an alternative solution.
Experts say it will take a public-private partnership to make this happen.