We are happy to report that this year has been another successful nesting season for the Florida burrowing owls and AWE’s Owl Watch Program. Currently, we have over 404 sites including Marco Island, Isles of Capri, Fiddlers Creek Community in South Naples, and downtown Naples for the 2020 nesting season.
This year, thanks to our 80+ active volunteers, we completed over 3000 burrow checks at the 404 sites, spending an estimated 2,000+ hours monitoring owls.
From the data collected, we determined that 255 pairs of burrowing owls nested in Marco Island, and 6 pairs nested in Naples. Burrowing owl chicks are considered “fledged” at 6 weeks of age when they can fly. This is the benchmark we use to determine if a pair of owls was successful in raising chicks or not. This year, 79% of pairs fledged at least 1 chick, for a total of 586 chicks fledged. The number of pairs increased by 62 from last year’s total of 193 nesting pairs and increased by 167 chicks fledged from last year’s 419. This is yet another record for the number of chicks fledged in the 5 years we have been monitoring owls in and around Marco Island. The numbers didn’t increase experientially so are we seeing a leveling out of the population on Marco?
We didn’t band any owls this season, just had some re-sighting of owls banded the previous seasons. During the past 4 years, we have banded over 125 owls and have had about a 20% re–sighting ratio. We still would like anyone to report the area they see any owl that is banded. This is very important to our research to see the longevity of the owls and their survival rate in an urban environment.
Safe Harbor Incentive Program Update
This year, we implemented a Safe Harbor Agreement. This agreement was written with the help of The City of Marco Island, FWC and AWE to provide monetary incentives to the residents of Marco Island if they put a starter burrow in their yard, on a built-out property vs an empty lot, to attract burrowing owls. The burrowing owl needs to excavate an 18” burrow or nest in the burrow in order to qualify for the program. So far, we have 14 home sites that qualify for the program. The Safe Harbor agreement specifies that $250 will be awarded to each homesite owner each year an owl excavates the burrow that is over 18” long, whether they lay eggs or not. The City Council approved $5000 for the Safe Harbor Program.
Looking into Upcoming Nesting Season
We are very excited to see how next season goes. Assuming around 25% of those 586 chicks survive to adulthood and settle in the Marco Island/Naples area, we’ll have a whole lot more to monitor next February-July! Will these owls pack themselves into Marco Island, or will they expand into Naples and beyond? The concentrated population stayed on Marco even with the increase in construction on the vacant lots.
For this past nesting season, the Owl Watch Program concentrated on re-sighting of the 125+ owls that have been banded over the past 3 years. These bands enable us to identify individual owls throughout their lifetimes. This banding project will help answer basic questions like, how long do owls live, how many chicks does an owl produce over a lifetime, and where do young owls go after they leave their nest?
On the upside, we now have 5 years’ worth of nesting data we are starting to see patterns. For the years, from 2016 – 2019, the population and number of burrows increased steadily by about 10% each season. Comparing the data from last year and this nesting season, we see that the populations have stayed almost the same. Have we reached capacity on the island? Will the population stay the same?
At the end of October, we will be welcoming Dr. Liz White on a part-time basis who is a UF/IFAS Ph.D. Graduate, who studied urban burrowing owls on Marco and Cape Coral and compared them to the rural ranch land owls of central Florida to see if the populations intermingled. Owl Watch is also engaging Biologist Brittany Piersma to collaborate with Dr. White.