Rare burrowing owl found dead in West Berkeley park

This dead owl was found Sunday in a Berkeley park. Photo: Urban Bird Foundation
This dead owl was found Sunday in a Berkeley park. Photo: Urban Bird Foundation

A rare burrowing owl was found dead recently at Berkeley’s Cesar Chavez Park, raising some concern in the community.

Local resident Heidi Sachs saw the dead bird on a bench during her run at the Berkeley Marina on Sunday and shared the news with Berkeleyside.

“Really sad for me to think about,” she said, adding, “a passer-by mentioned a puncture wound on the owl’s head.”

On Friday, Earth Island Institute’s nonprofit Urban Bird Foundation released a statement about the discovery of the dead owl. The group said it received a report about the carcass Thursday night.


According to the Urban Bird Foundation, the bird was placed on a bench and puncture wounds could be seen on its body. But the group said it did not recover the carcass itself to verify those reports.

Carolyn Jones, a spokeswoman for the East Bay Regional Park District, said it is hard to know exactly where the bird was killed, but noted it could have died on EBRPD property, at Cesar Chavez Park, or nearby. Its cause of death, however, remains a mystery.

“The owl could have been killed by a feral cat, another raptor (hawks will go after burrowing owls, for example), or another predator,” Jones said by email. “Feral cats are a problem at several East Bay parks.”

Steven Bobzien, a wildlife ecologist with EBRPD, said the visible puncture wounds (as seen in a photograph) appeared to have been more likely caused by a raptor — such as a red-tailed hawk, red-shouldered hawk, Cooper’s hawk or great horned owl — than by a feral cat.

And he said it’s possible the animal did not even die from a “predation event.” Its death could have resulted “from some other cause and these wounds are associated with scavenging.”


The Park District asks anyone who finds a dead animal, especial a rare species like a burrowing owl, to contact park stewardship staff with any available information.

This dead owl was found Sunday in a Berkeley park. Photo: Heidi Sachs
This dead owl was found Sunday in a Berkeley park. Photo: Heidi Sachs

“With so few sightings of these birds the last few years in the Marina, I was sad to see this one lost its life there,” Sharon Negri, director of the Earth Island Institute project WildFutures said in the prepared statement from the Urban Bird Foundation. Negri told the foundation about the owl.

The Berkeley Marina, Cesar Chavez Park, and Eastshore State Park provide wintering habitat for the owls each year between October and March or April.

“Reports of dead burrowing owls are always disheartening as we work each day to protect this incredibly unique species, but this news is especially sad considering only two to three owls return to Berkeley’s Cesar Chavez Park each year,” said Scott Artis, executive director of Urban Bird Foundation and the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network, in the prepared statement.

The group is following up with the Park District to try to learn more about the dead owl “as the details may help with San Francisco Bay Area burrowing owl conservation efforts.”


Artis agreed with the EBRPD assessment that, though puncture wounds were seen on the dead owl, those injuries could have happened after death. He said there is fencing around EBRPD owl burrow areas to keep dogs away, but that it’s not completely secure.

“One possible theory is that the owl was either caught by a dog or was found by a dog after it had already died of natural or other causes,” he said. “Because we do not have the carcass, we can not say for certain and do not want to blame anyone for what may be a potentially natural process.”

Artis said Friday he did not know the location of the carcass at this time, or whether anyone had taken possession of it.

This dead owl was found Sunday in a Berkeley park. Photo: Heidi Sachs
This dead owl was found Sunday in a Berkeley park. Photo: Heidi Sachs

“The last we know is that it was left in the park. It is believed someone placed it on the bench after finding it, but we do not know for sure,” he said.

Jones, the Park District spokeswoman, said EBRPD does not have the carcass either but would like to be able to see it to investigate what caused the owl’s death.

“Our stewardship staff monitors wildlife in the parks and if it does turn out to be a feral cat or a trend we’d probably take some steps to prevent future incidents,” she said. “If it turns out to be a hawk, we wouldn’t do anything because hawks are native and do occasionally go after other birds.”

Some burrowing owl populations have been on the decline for decades due to grassland habitat loss, the Urban Bird Foundation reports. The owl has also been considered for placement on the state’s endangered species list.

The Western burrowing owl has special or endangered status in a number of other localities already, according to Urban Bird Foundation.

The owl “was once distributed broadly throughout western North America, but has found itself declining in numbers throughout all historic ranges in the last 40 years,” according to the foundation.

EBRPD asks anyone with additional information to email Steve Bobzien or call him at 510-544-2347. The Urban Bird Foundation asks anyone who found the owl, placed it on the bench, may have seen what happened, or has additional details to email info@urbanbird.org. Read more about Berkeley wildlife in past Berkeleyside coverage.

Related:
How I became a docent for burrowing owls. What a hoot! (05.02.16)
Berkeley bans feeding of wildlife in parks, public spaces (10.03.14)
Climate change spells trouble for Berkeley birds (09.10.14)
Berkeley squirrels are safe from extermination — for now (03.27.14)
Western Burrowing Owls are back on Berkeley Marina (01.16.14)
Can’t get enough of them: Berkeley’s burrowing owls (02.19.13)
Burrowing owls come out to preen at Berkeley Marina (02.11.13)
How the Barn Owl became Berkeley’s official bird (01.23.13)
Berkeley owl chick will soon branch out, says expert (04.26.12)
Photos: Baby owl on Berkeley trail is growing up fast (04.19.12)
Berkeley owl family grows, more reports of dog swoops (04.02.12)
Owl sets up home on Berkeley trail, dog owners on alert (03.12.12)
Burrowing owls, and docents, return to Berkeley park (02.16.12)
Look who’s on Hillcrest (08.22.11)

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