Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Burrowing Owl Season Off to a Busy Start

Fifty-eight Owl Watch monitors recently attended a training session at Mackle Park to kick-off the 2019 Burrowing Owl Nesting Season.

In 1999, the City of Marco Island’s Environmental Specialist, Nancy Richie performed the very first survey of the burrowing owls in Marco Island. She started with 4-5 owls in Marco and every Friday, on her own time, Nancy with her Owl Prowl volunteers, Lori Fredericks, Eva Schliesser, Lori Fredericks and Carol Patterson, posted and weed whacked burrows.

In 2015, Nancy left the city for the private sector. Audubon of the Western Everglades took over the project and Owl Watch Marco was born.

Photos by Jean Hall | Color combinations are recorded in a specific order starting with the bird’s left leg. This owl’s band combination is: White/Metal – Yellow/White.

Why study burrowing owls? Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission listed the burrowing owls as State Threatened in 2016. Very few studies have been done in Florida, and the most recent research was completed in the early 2000s. In order to conserve burrowing owls in the future, we need to learn more about them through a combination research and monitoring. Researchers from the University of Florida are currently studying burrowing owls across Southwest Florida at seven sites: Cape Coral, Marco Island and five working cattle ranches. Owl Watch monitoring provides a valuable complement to that research, allowing biologists to track population changes in Marco Island over time.

Each owl watch monitor is given an orange folder which includes a map of their assigned neighborhood, data sheets, contact information and their official monitoring protocol.

Each monitor will check their assigned neighborhood once a week. While at the sites, they write down the time of their arrival and stay for at least 10 minutes. Most sites are on private property, so they are instructed to observe from the sidewalk using binoculars.

Monitors record the number of adults and chicks and also check for leg bands. Monitors have been instructed on how to read leg band combinations. They will note anything unusual; if monitors see anything suspicious, they are provided with contact information.

Why band burrowing owls? What is the annual survival rate for burrowing owls? Where do juvenile owls move to after they leave their burrows? How many survive to adulthood? By banding them, researchers are able to identify individual owls and keep track of their activities.

For the public, if you encounter a banded burrowing owl, please write down the band combination; if you can’t see well – take a photo, note its location and email information to:

Burrowing owls are classified as State Threatened which means burrows, owls and eggs are protected from harm and harassment. If you find a collapsed burrow or suspicious activity near a burrow, please call: FWC Wildlife Alert at 888-404-3922. Note a license plate, description of activity, and take a photo if you can.

If you find an injured owl, please call von Arx Wildlife Hospital at 239-262-2273. If you are unable to transport the owl, they can send a Critter Courier to pick up the injured bird.

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