Thursday, January 20, 2022

For the Love of Marco’s Owls

Congratulations to all the dedicated Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE) Owl Watch Marco volunteers! In October, the Owl Watch Marco program received the 2018 Outstanding Conservation Project Award from Audubon Florida for their “extraordinary efforts in building partnerships and monitoring the burrowing owls of Marco Island.”

By the end of the 2018 nesting season, 46 Owl Watch Marco volunteers monitored 290 addresses with owl burrows and collected a total of 4,750 observations (visits to an address), adding up to an amazing 755 hours of volunteer service! Thanks for giving a HOOT!

Owl Watch was started in early 2000 with the legacy group of Nancy Richie, Eva Schliesser, Carol Patterson and Lori Fredericks. Their passion for conservation is being carried forward by an equally passionate group of over 46 volunteers. The Burrowing Owl Class of 2018 “graduated” a total of 193 pairs of burrowing owls, which fledged 418 chicks (reached six weeks of age and could fly). According to Alli Smith, lead researcher for AWE’s Owl Watch Marco Program, “This is the highest number ever recorded in Marco Island.”

Project Leader Jean Hall is hoping to achieve a sustainable owl population to keep the burrowing owls in Marco Island. Looking ahead, the new juvenile owls will need suitable burrows for the coming nesting season. As Marco builds out, the number of vacant lots are shrinking fast – likely leading to a decrease in the island’s owl population.

Alli Smith says, “The Starter Burrow Program is a viable alternative to provide our owls additional burrows.” Over 40 lot owners have already participated in this program.

Andy Serafin, a Marco resident, joined the Starter Burrow Program and a pair of owls recently moved in. Andy named one of the owls “Wes the Owl” in honor of his brother Wes, who passed away in 2017. Wes was a passionate birder in the Chicago area and this is Andy’s way of honoring Wes by becoming a part of the burrowing owl preservation program. Best part – Andy can watch Wes and his mate from his dining room window and he can’t wait for chick season.

Soon the start of the “mating season” (November to December) will be upon us. As owls settle into a burrow you will notice a lot of digging. Male owls are notorious collectors of junk to impress their mates! These include small pieces of yarn, carpets, grass divots, foil, metal caps, plastics, cigarette butts, red flowers, and their favorite – dried dog poop!

With the banding of over 118 burrowing owls from the previous season, Owl Watch volunteers can’t wait to check out their assigned neighborhoods.

To help preserve the burrowing owls in Marco, consider becoming a volunteer, participate in the Starter Burrow Program, or join its Adopt an Owl Program. For information call 239-643-7822 or email

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