Thursday, September 20, 2018

Owls on the “Band” Wagon


A Young chick’s legs are measured and recorded. Chicks only get one metal band on the left leg.

Have you noticed the colorful jewelry on the legs of some burrowing owls in Marco Island?

Researchers from the University of Florida, under the supervision of Dr. Raoul Boughton, are putting these “color bands” on burrowing owls as part of a larger study throughout South Florida. According to Alli Smith, lead researcher for Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE), banding is the first step towards learning more about Marco’s burrowing owls.

Banding will allow both researchers and Owl Watch volunteers to start keeping track of individual owls, helping them learn basic demographics such as an owl’s lifespan and how many chicks an owl produces in its lifetime. It will also help provide information on more complex behaviors like dispersal and space use.

The banding program is sanctioned by the Bird Banding Lab (BBL), which is a United States Geological Survey (USGS) program to advance scientific knowledge of birds all across the U.S.

The burrowing owl’s biggest threat in Marco is habitat loss. Will the owls tolerate more development as the city builds out or will they disappear from lack of nesting space? According to Alli Smith, this research will help get to that answer and also figure out ways that humans and owls can coexist.

Marco Island is a great place for this banding project, because of the presence of 40 dedicated Owl Watch volunteers who are trained to re-sight banded owls! This season there are 52 banded adult owls in Marco Island and 27 banded chicks. Each Owl Watch volunteer will be key for next nesting season in locating banded owls that might have moved to new burrows, and also to find the banded chicks.

All banding activities are conducted by trained researchers under state and federal permits.

Owls Need Your Help

Residents can help by granting permission to AWE to enter their vacant lot for monitoring and research (banding). According to Alli Smith, research is limited by property access. Residents’ participation is key in the conservation and protection of the burrowing owls of Marco Island.

Join the Starter Burrow program. This will encourage an owl pair to move to your property providing them with a safe new home to raise their family next year. These burrows are easy to integrate into your residential landscape.

Residents can help keep track of banded owls. If you sight a banded owl, please take a photo showing both legs and the location. If you find a dead banded owl, please call AWE (239-643-7822) and provide the number on the metal band and its location. If after business hours or weekends, email info to: OwlWatchMarco@gmail.com.

Burrowing owl research takes a lot of behind the scenes work for AWE staff. All these programs for the preservation of burrowing owls on Marco are funded through donations. Currently, Masters and Ph.D. students are studying the burrowing owls on Marco Island. Consider becoming a partner and sponsor a major portion of the Burrowing Owl Program on Marco. Please contact AWE with your interest by calling 239-643-7822, or email audubonwe@live.com.

The Burrowing Owls of Marco would love to hear from you. Please indicate your interest and contact: OwlWatchMarco@gmail.com.

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