Located on the edge of the Everglades and surrounded by Rookery Bay and the Ten Thousand Islands’ unique mangrove and estuarine environment, Marco Island’s subtropical climate and diverse habitat allows many wildlife species encounters. In abundance and not found in many places, wildlife such as, Bottled-nosed Dolphins, West Indian Manatees, Loggerhead, Green, and Kemp-Ridley Sea Turtles, many species of shore and water birds, Bald Eagles, American Osprey, Burrowing Owls, Gopher Tortoises, Bobcats and even Panthers.
Not a day goes by as an area resident that one does not encounter wildlife. Going to the beach, boating, golfing, and even doing errands around town, one will see wildlife in action. These experiences enhance our wonderful life on the Island, but please remember wildlife needs to be respected and viewed at a distance.
There has been a long history of nesting Bald Eagles on Marco Island. Currently there are two active nesting locations of Bald Eagles. There is one nest at the Island Country Club Golf Course and one nest at the Marco Island Eagle Sanctuary (MIES) property at 665 Tigertail Court, formerly known as “Tract K”. They are very large nests built of sticks and debris in pine trees – Slash Pine on the golf course; Australian Pine at the MIES site. This time of year, eagle chicks, or eaglets, are seen perching on the edge of the large nests contemplating flying. Federally and state protected, Bald Eagles, their young, nest and habitat are protected and require a 330 foot zone of protection around the active nesting tree. There is no trespassing at each site; the use of scopes and binoculars is required to respect the Bald Eagles when viewing. The MIES has benches and an informative sign about the Bald Eagle.
Osprey are very large raptors with white heads and underbodies, large birds of prey but smaller than Bald Eagles. They are commonly seen soaring in the Marco Island skies and nesting in the tallest trees or structures available – such as the Marco Island Police and Fire Department antenna. Once identified, their high pitched cries are unmistakable. Many pairs of osprey use navigational markers in waterways as nesting platforms, but there are several sites with artificial stand with nests and feeding sites for osprey at Tigertail Beach Park, Mackle Park and State Road 92. Chicks are hatched and seen in the nests being fed by the parent osprey. Give the nest sites at least a 20 foot buffer. Use binoculars for viewing the feeding and chick activity.
One of the most charming and abundant species, the Florida Burrowing Owl, can be found throughout Marco Island on 86 sites this season. Listed as a state “species of special concern”, for conservation and public awareness, burrow locations are posted with stakes, orange flagging and signage maintained by City staff and volunteers. Burrowing Owls dig their own burrows, ranging from three to nine feet on MarcoIsland. A site could have one to five or six burrows for one pair of owls. It is not uncommon to see the owls sitting on the posts of perches near their burrows. This time of year (February- July), is nesting season. The male owl will be seen around the clock at the burrow opening acting as “sentinel” for the nesting female in the burrow. During the months of April through July, chicks can be easily observed. Though so easy to see, it is important to respect the boundaries of the posted burrows. Vehicles should be parked at minimum, 20 feet from posted area. If viewing in a large group, do not surround the posted area; keep to one side and approach slowly and quietly.
This burrowing land tortoise (not turtle) is found in the upland, sandy areas of Marco Island, predominantly in the “estates” area (Inlet, Olds, Watson, Ludlow, Caxambas) and the Hideaway Beach neighborhood, but also in the Sheffield/Dogwood/Hawaii Barfield Bay area, Spinnaker Drive, and occasionally in the dunes of the beach. Free-ranging in these areas, vehicles should be cautious on the roadways. Gopher Tortoises live in extensive burrows they dig in the sandy soil, and need open sunny areas for nesting and basking. Signs along the roadways are posted on properties with burrows on site. Keep your eyes open for these tortoises cruising through the grasses or grazing on vegetation. As a state listed “threatened” species, do not touch, pick up or move the animals. If there is one crossing or in the roadway; stop and wait for it to cross, always keeping at least a 20 foot distance from the animal and burrow area.
Manatees and Dolphins
With over a hundred miles of waterway canals, four large bays, the Marco River, and the Gulf of Mexico surrounding Marco Island, West Indian Manatees and Bottlenose Dolphins are regularly seen in the waters. Look for fins and flukes of swimming and feeding dolphins; a large “bump” or “footprint” (smooth water) from feeding and surfacing manatees. Manatees will surface and sun themselves on the surface of canal waters for hours in the cooler winter months. A popular location to see a manatee is in the Scott Drive canal. If boating when these marine mammals are encountered, for safety and respect, please keep the vessel at idle speed / no wake and stay at least 50 feet from the animal. Dolphins tend to approach a boat wake and “play” which is a wonderful experience; but never chase or surround swimming marine mammals – give them space, it will make the viewing more enjoyable and keep the animals safe.
During the months of May through October, the seven plus miles of Marco Island beaches are habitat for Loggerhead Sea Turtle nesting and hatching. Nests are marked with posts, yellow flagging and signage. Please respect the incubating eggs and keep at least 20 feet from the nest site when enjoying the beach. Sea turtles are rarelyseen on the beach, as only the female sea turtle will ever leave the Gulf and only to deposit her eggs, returning again to sea. Offshore, a large head, sometimes mistaken for a crab trap buoy or coconut, may be a Loggerhead Sea Turtle surfacing for a breath of air. Boaters should keep a distance. Green and Kemps-Ridley Sea Turtles are often seen swimming in the nearshore waters. If a resident of or staying on the beachfront, help prevent sea turtle disorientations by turning out or shading lights that could shine on the beach by 9 PM each night, between May 01 through October 31 of each year for the sea turtle nesting season. Also, for conservation measures, no fires, flashlights, or flash photography are allowed on the Marco Island beaches after 9 PM. Do your part, and keep our beaches dark!
Tigertail Beach Park located in the northwest corner of Marco Island is the gateway to the Sand Dollar Island / Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area and also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. This approximately 3-mile spit of land attached to Marco Island at the north end of the beach and buffered by the Tigertail Lagoon, is a federally protected habitat due to the many different species of shorebirds that live year round, migrate through in the winter months and the species that nest in the spring and summer months. Vitally important to worldwide bird populations, there are over 60 species of birds documented that depend on this habitat. Birds are easily seen. Respecting the posted areas, take a walk to the shoreline but do not enter posted areas. In the next few months, Least Terns, Wilson Plovers and Black Skimmers will be nesting. A camera, scope and binoculars are essential for the best viewing. Shorebird Stewards, volunteers for public outreach, are on the beaches to answer any questions and to assist in viewing the beautiful birds and chicks.
Bobcats and Panthers
Southwest Florida is home to both Bobcats and Panthers with Marco Island within their ranges. Both of these shy, wild cats have been seen on the Island, but sightings typically occur in the very early morning hours and are rare events. Bobcats are smaller, not nocturnal and more commonly seen, especially in the Barfield Bay area of the Island. If you are fortunate to see either, please watch, enjoy and retreat. It will happen fast!
HOW CAN YOU HELP WILDLIFE?
Please respect all posted rules for safe distances while viewing. Getting close enough to an animal to make it react, become aggressive or leave the area, is too close! Please back away immediately. Wildlife is best enjoyed when quietly observing their natural behavior; not disturbing or distressing the animal. Please do NOT feed wildlife.
If wildlife is found dead, injured or being harassed, please call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Wildlife 24-hour hotline number: 1-888-404-3922 (FWCC).
For any additional information please contact Nancy Richie, Environmental Specialist, City of Marco Island at 239- 389-5003 or nrichie@cityofmarcoisland. com