Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Monday, May 28, 2018

From Our Far-Flung Correspondents: Google Supporting Feral Cats

Burrowing Owl

This week I got an email from KUMD listener Will Bomier from Mahtowa linking to an article in Saturday’s New York Times: “Owl Lovers Cry Foul: In a Silicon Valley park, burrowing owls are dying and disappearing. Public records and a bit of snooping uncovered a path that led to Google and its feline-loving employees."

The article, by Pulitzer-Prize-winning David Streitfeld, begins:
A handful of burrowing owls live in [Shoreline Park, a] 750-acre wildlife and recreation area, deep in the grass. As the breeding season begins, they are among perhaps 50 left in Silicon Valley. A California species of “special concern,” burrowing owls nest in the ground. That makes them especially vulnerable.
Death strikes hard at Shoreline. The remains of an owl — a leg, a wing, a few scattered feathers — were found here in 2015, shortly after a feral cat was seen stalking it. Another owl was discovered dead near its burrow, and a third disappeared that year and was presumed killed. That was fully half the owls nesting in the park.
The article discusses the large number of cats in the area and gets into the issue of why Google, which has actively supported the Burrowing Owls at a leased property a few miles south of the Googleplex, has been so singularly unhelpful with regard to problem cats. A handful of Google employees started what they call a Cat Colony with feeding stations, at least one dangerously close to a designated Burrowing Owl nesting area. Various groups, including the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, have been pleading with Google to remove the cat feeding stations since 2012, but the corporation refuses to interfere with this employee project. According to the article:

The number of cat sightings [at Shoreline Park] last year was 318, according to the City of Mountain View’s official count. And 2017 was the first time in 20 years of record-keeping that no owl fledglings were observed in the park. As recently as 2011, there were 10. 
“We lose the owls, we lose something else next, and then something else,” Ms. McLaughlin said. “We need biodiversity” … 
 “It’s a problem,” said Shani Kleinhaus, an environmental advocate with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. “Many of the avian species around the Bay breed on or close to the ground, and the cats prey on them at their most vulnerable moments — sitting on their eggs or caring for their young.”
Although some other companies support feral cat colonies, a few have become more responsible environmental stewards. Facebook stopped allowing cat feeding several years ago at a marsh with endangered species that abuts their campus. Intuit, which like Google borders Shoreline Park, doesn’t have any employee cat programs.

Will Bomier, who sent me the article, writes:
I was so disturbed to learn that a big company like Google (and its employees) would sponsor such irresponsible behavior.  For a company to be presented with such facts/evidence and to not take action?  I had no idea that anyone would have such a thing as a “Cat Feeding Station.” 
And I’ll double Will’s sigh.

Burrowing Owl