Friday, December 3, 2021

City & Residents Give a HOOT for Starter Burrow Program

Photos by Jean Hall | For 2020, it was recorded that 255 pairs of burrowing owls nested in Marco and 6 pairs in Naples.


For the past year, groups of Marco Island residents who are dedicated owl lovers and protectors decided to participate in the Burrowing Owl Starter Burrow Incentive Program. They requested Audubon Owl Watch Program to set up “starter burrows” to encourage burrowing owls to nest on their improved – not vacant – lot 

According to Brad Cornell, from Audubon of the Western Everglades, the agreement with the City of Marco Island specified that $250 will be awarded to each homesite owner each year an owl excavates the burrow that is over 18-inches long, whether they lay eggs or not. The City approved $5,000 for this program. The purpose of providing grants to property owners is to provide safe nesting space for burrowing owls on Marco. 

At the January 19th City Council Meeting, Councilor Jared Grifoni recognized these pioneers. The Starter Burrow Incentive Program is a trend setting program in the State of Florida and conservationists all over the country are taking notice. 

Present to accept their awards were: Shelli Connelly, Austin Bell, and Andrew Serafin. Congratulations to Rebecca Krisko, John & Gloria Giering, Andrew and Marianna Serafin, Shane Willis, JD Metzger, Paul Butman, John Harbeson, Edward & Tamara Skrzynski, Shelli Connelly, Amanda & Casey Nowlin, Steven and Christin Nowlin, Steven and Christine Martucci, Erin and Austin Bell and Robert and Diane Sakuta. 

Councilor Grifoni remarked that he hopes this program is going to continue, hopefully in perpetuity, and get more and more individuals out and to increase the habitat on the island for this unofficial bird of Marco Island.


Photos by Jean Hall | Starter Burrow Recipients Receiving their award of $250 from Councilor and Chair, Jared Grifoni. Congratulations to all the recipients. Pictured Recipients: Shelli Connelly, Andrew Serafin and Austin Bell.


This “unofficial bird of Marco Island” is a “state threatened”. Marco Island also enacted an ordinance that offers additional protection to threatened species such as the burrowing owl. 

With Marco Island reaching build-out, vacant lots, which are choice habitats for the burrowing owls, are slowly disappearing. This is seen as having a potential negative impact on the burrowing owl population of Marco Island. 

The Purpose of the Starter Burrow Incentive Program is to encourage burrowing owls to nest on residential improve lots. If interested, please email:

For a bit of historyIn 2019, Councilor Grifoni proposed that the City Council enact a policy that would place up to $5,000 as a yearly line item in the budget, the purpose to provide grants to property owners who volunteer for a “starter burrow” to provide safe nesting space for burrowing owls. This program will be administered by the Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee. The Audubon of the Western Everglades will set up the “starter burrows” which will be monitored by the volunteers of the Owl Watch Program of Marco. 

Under an agreement with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the starter burrows are provided “safe harbor protection.” Individual property owners on Marco who install starter burrows on their property will incur no penalty after five years in the event they wish to remove the burrow. 

This Starter Burrow Incentive Program came about from numerous discussions by BACR members on positive methods and constructive initiatives to engage the community in protecting the burrowing owls. Often, fines and violations dominate the discussion.  

This is a win-win for the City, community, and the burrowing owl population of Marco Island. 

Hoot Hoot and thanks to all 80-plus active volunteers of the Owl Watch Marco Program; they completed over 3,000 burrow checks at the 404 sites, spending an estimated 2,000 or more hours monitoring owls. It was recorded that 255 pairs of burrowing owls nested on Marco and six pairs in Naples in 2020. 

If you are interested in a starter burrow for your yard, please contact: 



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