Thursday, October 28, 2021

Burrowing Owls Takes Spotlight at Rookery Bay’s Festival of Birds

Photos by Jean Hall | Alli Smith, Biologist and Owl Watch Marco Project Manager at Rookery Bay’s Festival of Birds on January 19, 2020.


At the January 19th Rookery Bay’s Festival of Birds, Burrowing Owls of Southwest Florida shared the spotlight with the Flamingo, Florida’s Forgotten Wading Bird.  

Marco Island’s fluffiest residents starred in a well-attended lecture presented by Alli Smith, project manager of Audubon Western Everglades (AWE) Owl Watch Program. Her presentation educated and delighted attendees about local Burrowing Owls, accompanied by Jean Hall’s amazing photography.  

As an endangered species, the burrowing owls are the subject of pressing local conservation and property value discussions. Smith, whose love of birds led her to a Master’s in biology, stressed the importance of understanding the birds and laws associated with them. An educated public can avoid incurring legal and financial penalties, enjoy the biological beauty these creatures bring, and ensure a future together on the island.  

Smith spoke about local success stories in the efforts of volunteers and the key conservationist work of Nancy Richie. Burrowing Owls in Marco face an uncertain future as they require open spaces for their burrows that are slowly decreasing due to a rapid increase in home development. 

Attendees posed questions about how they could join in the efforts to keep these rare birds thriving for years to come.  

Photos by Jean Hall | Alli Smith banding owls on Residents Reach.

“The birds know best,” Smith said as a guideline, advising residents to abstain from well-meaning help that harms. Leaving food by their burrows, for example, attracts crows and other predators that spot and prey on otherwise hidden chicks. Attendees learned to leave burrows undisturbed during storms and hurricane season. Suburban burrows are shallow and usually 3 ft deep and 5-12 ft long. Walking on top of the burrow can cause a collapse. “The birds have been doing this for thousands of years,” Smith said, remarking on how Hurricane Irma only destroyed five of five hundred burrows, followed by a record-breaking year in the population.  

For property owners, it is important to know that you can build on land with burrows and remove them as long as the correct procedure is followed, avoiding personal attempts to relocate wildlife. Residents can contact Owl Watch for an inspection and permit. The burrow can be filled by a registered agent if not occupied. If there are young inhabitants, they can recommend the time frame in which you can expect the owls to leave. “It’s unnecessary to get into legal trouble,” Smith explained 

Residents experiencing an influx of young birds on their mailboxes and porches should not panic. These young ones are in the process of digging a burrow for themselves but will not build a nest or take up permanent residence on the porch.  

Residents can help by keeping an eye out on the roads at night and driving slowly, as the birds are attracted to light. They also have an affinity for anything soft or eye-catching to line or decorate their burrows, so be mindful of open trash cans, exposed laundry, and litter, as these can be deadly and dangerous.  

If you want to see some Burrowing Owls up close and learn more about this local species, Smith welcomes you to join as a volunteer this March with Owl Watch.  

If you want to learn more, donate, adopt an owl, or volunteer with Owl Watch Marco please email: 

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