Even with 95% of Marco’s vacant lots all built out, the nesting update for mid-season looked promising for the burrowing owls. Volunteers reported 252 pairs of owls in Marco (193 – last year); with 243 chicks with many more eggs expected to hatch. On Week 11 the Owl Watch volunteers recorded 3000 observations which translated to 500 hours of observation. Alli Smith, Owl Watch biologist for the Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE) is thrilled with the amount of information that has been collected.
It shows that even with the City’s rapid development, the owl population appears to be growing. Though Marco is recording more owls this year, Alli told the volunteers that “If we work hard and leave some spaces for the owls, we may have a sustainable population in Marco in the future.”
We don’t know what the future holds for the owls. We do know that 95% of the owls in Marco are living in vacant lots with only 5% living in yards or parks. We know that those yards will be the only spaces left for them in the future in Marco Island.
According to Brad Cornell of the Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE), City Councilor Jared Grifoni has put forth a very bold proposal which will incentivize home owners on Marco to add a starter burrow on their property, if that property is conducive to a burrowing owl habitat. For those that do work, this program will provide a financial incentive to homeowners who are able to recruit owls to their property.
According to Alli Smith, Marco Island has added 66 starter burrows in the last two years. Nineteen of them have had owls and of the 19, 13 have excavated into full tunnels usable by owls for shelter and eight of them are being used as nest for now. This is very encouraging. It shows that some owls are willing to nest in yards and that a starter burrow is a tool that can help the burrowing owls in the future.
Dr. Raoul Boughton of the University of Florida has been studying ranch owls and comparing them to urban owls in Marco. Raoul stated, “We can talk conservation all we want, but until we know what the population is doing and what is happening to the species, we can’t help them.”
The burrowing owls solely exist in human modified habitat. 99% of the burrowing owls in Florida live in human modified habitat. According to Raoul, “While the Marco burrowing owls are doing so well, that exponential growth in wildlife is not ‘normal.’”
We can’t help a species if we don’t know anything about them. The data the Owl Watch Marco volunteers are collecting will help researchers put together pieces of the puzzle.
FWC Law Enforcement Officer Kyle Plussa told the volunteers that the Owl Watch Marco Program with its citizen science component along with the revised Species Ordinance is a model for the entire state.