“There are over 240 lots in Marco Island that have burrows. Last year, our Owl Watch program accounted for 170 burrowing owl pairs on Marco Island, plus a few single bachelor owls, for a total of about 350 adult owls. 119 of those pairs successfully raised chicks, for a total of 317 chicks raised last year.”
Smith said burrowing owls are much more than adorable and entertaining. “They also provide some natural pest control in Marco Island. They eat mostly insects, such as grasshoppers, roaches, mole crickets, and beetles. They also eat invasive Cuban anoles (lizards), Cuban tree frogs, and house geckos.”
And, she said, they pay their way. “They contribute to Marco Island’s economy. Lots of people travel here to see our burrowing owls, in addition to the other wildlife on the island.”
Smith touted Marco’s “starter burrow” program where homeowners dig a hole in an appropriate part of their property in hopes of enticing a mating pair of owls.
“More than 35 landowners have contacted us, including three condo associations. We think it’s incredible that so many people want owls in their front yard. Several owls have been seen checking out these new burrows.”
Smith explained why the starter burrow program is key to the survival of the owls on Marco Island. “The number one threat to burrowing owls in Florida is habitat loss, and they are rapidly losing that (vacant lots). However, these owls here are very tolerant of humans, so we think they may be able to live in very close proximity to us, such as in front yards and right-of-ways. I’m looking to see if Owl Watch’s starter burrow program an effective way to provide owls with more nesting habitat.”
“The answer is ‘No!’” Smith said, to the question of whether a burrow on a vacant lot prohibits building a house. “Burrowing owls do NOT prevent construction. Landowners can get a permit from the Florida Wildlife Commission, which allows them to build outside the nesting season.”
Anyone interested in volunteering or learning more about burrowing owls can participate in the Owl Watch training program. Volunteers monitor owl nests once every other week from March through July. Fill out the form at the link https:// goo.gl/forms/rbxe4oYZMdHGb8EA3 or email OwlWatchMarco@gmail.com.
The Marco Island Chapter of the DAR, established in 1976, has 59 members and 15 associate members. Luncheon meetings are on the third Thursday each month at 10:30 AM. Potential members and visitors from other chapters are welcome. Contact Karen Lombardi at 239-394-0028.