Thanks For Giving a HOOT

AWE’s Allison Smith with Laura Scelfo and Judy Hattendorf of Anglers Cove, whose HOA voted unanimously to re-landscape for owls. Photos by Jean Hall

Owl Watch Marco volunteers gathered for a holiday thank you luncheon at the community room of the Donna Fiala Fitness Center in East Naples.

Jean Hall, Manager of Audubon of Western Everglades’ (AWE) Owl Watch Marco program thanked all the volunteers for their hard work for a very successful 2017 nesting season. Hall also reported on the overwhelming response to the first launch of the Starter Burrow Program. AWE received many calls and to date has dug 17 starter burrows. These are mostly in residential yards. A big shout-out to the Angler’s Cove Homeowners Association (HOA) who voted unanimously to add a starter burrow to their newly re-landscaped green space. They were very excited to be part of the program.

Westview Condominium is also part of the Starter Burrow Program. During Irma they had a tree fall and a burrowing owl made a home underneath the root ball. Westview HOA voted to keep the owl and remove the stump. A starter burrow was dug for the owl to relocate prior to the removal of the stump.

AWE, with Owl Watch Marco is moving on to the next step by conducting their own research on the burrowing owls in Marco Island using the starter burrows. AWE is funding a biologist, Alli Smith, who is a graduate student at the University of Florida. Alli will monitor the owls using the starter burrow program and observe how they can adapt in urban settings. Habitat loss is the biggest threat to the burrowing owls in Marco Island.

According to Alli Smith, there have been few studies of the burrowing owls in Florida. The only other research done was on the Cape Coral burrowing owls about 20 years ago. Any studies on the burrowing owls of Marco Island will be new to science. With the burrowing owls being up-listed as “threatened” there is a big push to start the research now. The Starter Burrow Program is a big step in the right direction to protect them.

Along with the Starter Burrow Program, AWE is also going to start banding the burrowing owls. There are many unanswered questions; are they coming back to the same location each year? Are they flying to Cape Coral only to return to Marco for the nesting season? Is there a lot of interbreeding with the Marco owls? We don’t have the answers, yet. Hopefully the data gathered from the banding program can help AWE learn more about the burrowing owls of Marco Island.

AWE and Owl Watch Marco are en- couraging Marco Island residents to participate in its Starter Burrow Program. This is a big step in protecting the charismatic burrowing owls of Marco Island.

To add a starter burrow to your landscape, please send an e-mail of interest to: Staff from AWE’s Owl Watch Marco will schedule a visit to assess the best location for your starter burrow.

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