Early Owl Watch Pioneers
Owl Watch was started in early 2000, with then Environmental Specialist Nancy Richie, fewer burrowing owls and fewer volunteers. The original group, Lori Fredericks, Carol Patterson, Eva Schliesser and Nancy, posted the owls on their own time. In 2015, Audubon of the Western Everglades took over the program.
It was a banner year for the Burrowing Owl Class of 2018. Alli Smith, lead researcher for the Audubon of the Western Everglades’ (AWE) Owl Watch Marco Program, announced 2018’s “off the charts” stats to a packed crowd recently at Mackle Park.
Forty-six Owl Watch Marco volunteers monitored 290 addresses with owl burrows and collected a total of 4,750 observations (visits to an address). This added up to an amazing 755 hours of volunteer service
This year, volunteers observed 193 pairs of burrowing owls, which fledged a total of 418 chicks (reached six weeks of age and could fly)! According to Alli Smith, this is the highest number ever recorded in Marco Island and “blew last year’s results out of the water.” Last year, Owl Watch Marco counted 170 pairs of owls and 317 chicks. Despite the challenges the owls faced with Hurricane Irma, Smith believes that the big jump in fledgling numbers is due to better monitoring efforts. Who wouldn’t want to volunteer to be a monitor and watch the burrowing owls in your yard grow up?
Looking ahead from a very successful season, Smith thinks Marco Island is almost saturated with burrowing owls and it will be challenging for the new juvenile owls to find suitable burrows of their own for the upcoming nesting season. As Marco Island builds out, the number of vacant lots will shrink – leading to a smaller number of owls.
According to Smith, the primary threat to our burrowing owls is habitat loss. To combat this, the owls will need lots of help from Marco’s residents. “We can count them all we want but we need to also take action if we are going to keep the owls in Marco,” said Smith.
The Starter Burrow Program is a critical way to provide our owls with additional burrows. Owls need open, grassy areas to survive, such as grassy front and side yards. But owls can’t dig through the thick grassy turf. Over 40 lot owners have already participated in the starter burrow program. While the success rate stands at only 10%, we anticipate that more owls will move in by the next nesting season as the juveniles start looking for homes of their own.
Banding the owls to keep track of them is a huge first step to conservation according to Smith. She has banded 118 of Marco’s owls – 76 adults and 42 chicks. Banding will help researchers like herself determine the average Marco owl’s lifespan, their overall breeding success over time, and where juvenile owls go after they leave their burrows. Answers to these critical questions will determine the future of the owls in Marco.
Residents can help our owls by allowing AWE volunteers to enter your vacant lot for monitoring and research (banding). According to Smith, research is limited by property access.
Owl Watch Marco Program is an all-volunteer project and is 100% funded from donations. Consider becoming a partner/sponsor to ensure the preservation of Marco’s burrowing owls. Please contact AWE with your interest by calling 239-643-7822 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.