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Digging Up the Dirt on the Burrowing Owl of Cape Coral, Florida

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

If you have driven around Cape Coral and wondered about the white pipes and perches around burrows, here's the scoop: the white pipes stake the home of the burrowing owl.

The burrowing owl, (Athene cunicularia) with yellow eyes and brown and white feathers, looks precariously balanced on its stick-legs. It is relatively small, standing about 8 inches tall. An adult weighs about five ounces. It mates for life and does not migrate. The burrowing owl tends to stay within the blocks of where it lives. Its underground burrows, which can take about two days to build, can be sprawling -- extending to ten feet in length. It can lay up to eight eggs. After the eggs are laid, it takes about 30 days before the chicks hatch. Usually, about five of those eight eggs will survive. The burrowing owl eats mice, snakes, lizards, small birds, or bugs. Its propensity to build its burrows in open, treeless, spaces makes it an easy target for its top predators: hawks, cats, cars, and people.

Though the burrowing owl lives in other parts of the United States as well as Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, Cape Coral boasts the world's largest population with over 2,000 staked burrows. If you are lucky enough to see a burrowing owl, be mindful of its boundaries. If it bobs its head, then it feels threatened. Move away. Also, do not stake the burrows yourself because you may inadvertently cause a burrow to collapse and trap, injure or kill an owl.

Beverly Saltonstall has been a volunteer with the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife (CCFW) for the 20 plus years that she has been a Cape Coral resident. A staunch advocate for these curious creatures, Saltonstall dispelled several myths surrounding the burrowing owl.

Firstly, their heads do not turn 360 degrees.

Secondly, their presence on an empty lot does not mean that the lot can't be developed. Because the owls are a threatened species (versus endangered), it can be built on, but concessions must be made to protect the owl and its burrows, according to protocols that are set in place by the City and the State.

Thirdly: It is a fallacy that if you touch a bird, it will be rejected by its parents.

Saltonstall said the biggest problem for these fascinating creatures, like many other animals, is the loss of habitat due to construction. Also, the owls, can build on the viney grass of many people's lawns. The only hope for long term survival for these owls is the use of starter burrows. A starter burrow is just the removal of some of the grass in a particular manner on on your front lawn that may entice a burrowing owl to dig a burrow and raise a family. For help on installing a starter burrow call Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife at 239-980-2593.

To help them find safe places to burrow, Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife in accordance with CCFW has set up the Cape Coral Wildlife Trust to acquire land for habitat preservation, education, and research, of Cape Coral's indigenous wildlife. If you do not have land to sell or donate to the cause, perhaps you could consider a starter burrow to encourage the burrowing owl to be your neighbour.

If you want to learn more about the burrowing owl, you can get involved as a volunteer to help out at the Festival, raise awareness about this threatened species, or help stake the burrows. You can also support CCFW and its cause by making a donation or becoming a member or by shopping its store.

If you find an injured burrowing owl, call CCFW at 239-980-2593. They should also be contacted to report gopher tortoises. If you find other injured wildlife, contact the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW) at 239-472-3644. CROW also has detailed instructions on what to do if you find an injured animal.

Check this blog for future posts about the creatures of SWFL

If you liked this post, read more about SWFL:

Sustainable and Humane at Rosy Tomorrows

Echo Nursery and Global Farm

Snowbirds in Florida

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