Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Help Protect Our Owls

These chicks check out the world, sideways. Photos by Jean Hall

These chicks check out the world, sideways. Photos by Jean Hall

Submitted

At only nine inches tall when mature, the burrowing owl is a beloved Florida native and year-round resident of Marco Island. Those piercing, yellow eyes have drawn us all in, and their presence reassures us that all is well with our natural world.

Recently, there was an incident in Marco Island in which a resident intentionally plugged an owl burrow. Thanks to the quick action of a neighborhood Owl Watch member, the incident was reported to the proper Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) law enforcement authorities, and charges are being prepared. It is illegal to “take” (pursue, hunt, capture, molest or kill) burrowing owls and their burrows or eggs without a permit from the Florida FWC.

Marco Island started monitoring burrowing owls in 2001. In a newly launched project, Owl Watch, the city has partnered with the Audubon of Western Everglades (AWE) to continue the science-based chick/adult data collection for the burrowing owls. This project will continue the data collection started in 2001

Brown eyes in a burrowing owl are by recessive gene.

Brown eyes in a burrowing owl are by recessive gene.

by then city environmentalist, Nancy Richie. AWE will supervise the data collection and monitoring of burrow sites through the Owl Watch project. Collected data will help in conservation decisions on whether to up-list the burrowing owl’s status to a “Threatened” category or leave it as a “Species of Special Concern.”

Here on Marco Island life has not been very kind to the burrowing owl. Burrowing owls are federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (although they do not migrate). They were also designated as a Species of Special Concern, established by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in 1970. The burrowing owls are protected by Marco Island under Endangered, Threatened or Listed Species Protection, Ordinance 01-34. Despite these protections, the ongoing home construction boom on the island has contributed greatly to the owls’ loss of habitat.

Yes, you can build a home if a burrowing owl is living on your property. However, special permits are required for the removal or relocation of

A burrowing owl caught mid-“yawn.”

A burrowing owl caught mid-“yawn.”

an owl burrow. Contractors and builders best check with their state and local rules before applying for building permits. During the nesting season, (February-July 10) no building permit will be issued for applicants needing to “take” a burrow, unless the Florida FWC has issued a permit to take the owl burrow. Builders will need to submit a migratory bird nest removal permit application. Violations are subject to fines. Strong enforcement of state and local rules will help the burrowing owls’ long-term survival on Marco Island.

In Florida cities with a large burrowing owl population, volunteers armed with portable GPS units document the location of burrow sites. They share this information with the city. When a permit is pulled to build a home, the city is aware that a burrow exists by checking the database.

This is another way to ensure state and local rules are enforced, and to help protect a protected species. Crucial to the burrowing owls’ survival is a strong partnership between

Familiar, but no less charismatic, yellow eyes.

Familiar, but no less charismatic, yellow eyes.

federal, state, local government, conservation groups and a committed citizen volunteer group to develop conservation guidelines and to enforce existing rules to protect Endangered, Threatened or Species of Special Concern.

What can we do to help? Our activities have been the main contributors to the owls’ habitat loss; The use of heavy mowing equipment collapses burrows; Harm from domestic dogs and cats; Harassment by humans, and vehicle strikes.

When driving at night, slow down in areas with active burrows. Owls hunt at night and are focused on prey, not on approaching vehicles. If you do hit an owl, please stop and render assistance. Please call the Conservancy of Southwest Florida Wildlife Clinic at: 239-262-CARE (2273) or your local Marco Island Police Department non-emergency number at: 239-389-5050. To report malicious destruction or harassment of burrowing owls, please report the incident by calling: 1-888-404 FWCC (3922). Take a photo of the violation and also call your local MIPD. To help monitor a neighborhood site or to be a business sponsor, please contact:owlwatchmarco@gmail.com.

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