According to Alli Smith, the lead researcher for the Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE) the biggest threat to the burrowing owls in Marco is habitat loss. Alli manages the research program for the burrowing owls in Marco Island and presented the second segment of the Island Speaker Series for AWE at Mackle Park to a full audience. With owls currently looking for homes everywhere, the topic was timely.
“If you are an owl, you just need shelter, a mate and food.”
According to Alli, “Owls depend on open spaces to nest and vacant lots are disappearing from the island as more and more homes are built. They need a little help from humans in the form of starter burrows. In the future, the front yard starter burrows will be the only space available for the owls if we want to keep them in Marco. It is a way of sharing our space with them and get to enjoy your own owls. As of today, Owl Watch Marco has dug 51 starter burrows and about 25% of them are occupied.
A starter burrow is basically a hole in the ground in your front yard with a wooden perch. Owls can’t dig through the thick turf grass so we dig a burrow for them. Many homeowners with vacant lots have also given Owl Watch permission to install starter burrows.
In Marco a typical burrow is about seven feet long and can be three feet deep. Burrowing owls protect their burrows fiercely and the territory around it. One male owl could dig multiple burrows but will only nest in one and use the others for shelter. Their territory doesn’t overlap into other owl’s territory and they will defend it from other owls. If you see a burrow that looks abandoned, it is probably within another male owl’s territory and he won’t let anybody move into it.
Once a burrow is established, attracting a mate is high a priority. Male owls decorate their burrows with sticks, coconut husks, pieces of insulation, cigarette butts and shiny manmade objects. But every single male owl collects dried poop to impress the females. They hoot all night long for weeks to advertise themselves. Females tend to prefer an older and more experienced male for a mate.
For information on a Starter Burrow, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 239-643-7822.
Save the Date:
February 8, 2019 is the third Island Speaker Series on “What Marco’s wildlife have in common with Wildlife on Florida’s ranchlands,” by Dr. Raoul Boughton, Professor at UF-IFAS.
How Can You Help Our Owls?