Dolphins and Manatees are quite popular on Marco Island, but there is probably nothing more popular on Marco Island right now than burrowing owls. Their burrows seem to be popping up everywhere these days.
Now it’s possible to have an owl burrow in your own front yard—and you can receive $250 a year from the City of Marco Island for your trouble.
At the first annual Marco Nature Night, Wednesday evening at the Community Room at City Hall, Alli Smith of Audubon Western Everglades laid out the program for a capacity crowd that seemed to be hanging on her every word.
“If someone wants a starter burrow,” Alli Smith stated, “they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office at 239-643-7822 and we will set up a time to meet them in person, at their house. We will assess their yard and see if it’s suitable for burrowing owls. Then we just dig a burrow right then and there.”
Not all yards will work well for burrowing owls. However, Smith has developed criteria for assessing whether a given yard may provide a good home for a pair of owls.
“The best yard is as wide open as possible, with few trees and few plants,” Smith explained. “Owls are grassland birds and don’t like being near trees and don’t like being under bushes. Some yards aren’t suitable because there are too many plants. But on most properties, we are able to stick a starter burrow in.”
Smith said there is still a lot that is not known about burrowing owls. She said little research has been done.
On Marco, at least, it appears that burrowing owls prefer to be in the front yard—or the part of the yard facing the road for our waterfront homeowners.
“For some reason, we haven’t had any luck with burrows in back yards,” Smith said. “Most people’s backyards are too small. And for some reason, owls seem to like being near the road. I don’t know why. I can’t explain that.”
Another thing a homeowner may be concerned about might be a sudden over-population of burrowing owls in their front yard. Smith said that is one thing you don’t have to worry about.
“Owls are really territorial,” explained Smith. “They like being near other owls, but not too close. Even on our hundreds of vacant lots that have owls, almost all of them only have one owl pair on it. So really, one yard could only support one pair of owls.”
Burrowing owls live throughout Florida, mostly on cattle ranches. Smith said that Marco Island, Cape Coral and Fort Lauderdale are really the only cities that have burrowing owl populations.
In order for your yard to qualify for the $250 a year from the city, owls must excavate a tunnel greater than 18 inches long in their starter burrow.
“Basically, it has to be usable by owls as shelter,” Smith stated. “Under these guidelines, right now there are 12 that qualify for the $250 a year.”
However, if you think you would like a starter burrow on your property this year, you’d better act quickly.
“We won’t dig any new burrows after the end of February,” Smith said. “We’ll start digging again in August.”