City officials were hoping the owls would leave a northeast Modesto storm basin on their own, but it appears a relocation effort will get under way in two or three weeks.
Village I resident Karen Bader said it's clear the burrowing owls remain in the Ustach Park basin on Kodiak Drive. She said she saw two of them Thursday morning. The birds look to her like toy stuffed owls, she said.
"Most of us like the owls," Bader said. "They have been there for four or five years."
Sometimes the owls sit on the fence looking at people who are looking at them, she said.
In March, the city halted $478,000 in erosion repairs to the basin when workers found evidence of nesting burrowing owls. The owls take over rodent burrows to nest and raise their young.
Because the birds are protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act, state officials advised the city to create a 250-foot no- disturbance zone around the nests.
Gregg Halladay, deputy director of utility planning for Modesto, said Thursday that the city will contract with a biologist for what's called a "passive" relocation later this month. Workers will place one-way trap doors over the nesting holes and collapse other squirrel holes that could serve as nests.
Owls going through the trap doors won't be able to get back in and are expected to leave the basin. The relocation work could begin in two or three weeks, costing $6,000 or more, Halladay said.
Basin severely eroded
Next month, crews will remove vegetation and debris from the basin to make it less attractive for owls that may want to return in the winter. In February or March, a contractor will repair severe erosion in the basin and stabilize the slopes by planting vegetation and installing a mesh liner.
Bader and other residents believe there are three or four owls living in the basin. She said they don't see why the owls need to leave. "If they were not getting enough food, surely they would move on their own," Bader said.
While burrowing owls are migratory, some of them are known to stay year-round in the San Joaquin Valley. Their nesting period in the valley runs March to August.
Bader said she believes the Ustach Park owls stay throughout the year.
Halladay said the relocation is intended to protect the owls during the storm basin repairs. The vegetation and liner will make it more difficult for squirrels and other rodents to dig holes. He suspected the owls may find another nesting site nearby.
"We have no way to capture them and keep them in a cage until the project is completed," Halladay said. "The biologist we have worked with has said there are better places for them than this basin."
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2321.