Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Owls Wing It

Photos by Maria Lamb | Owl Watch Marco monitors at the mid-season update. FWC Officer Kyle Plussa (center) advised how monitors can help FWC Law Enforcement.

The Audubon of Western Everglades (AWE) Owl Watch Marco program held a mid-season update on the burrowing owls at Mackle Park. In addition, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Officer Kyle Plussa was present to talk about wildlife law enforcement and how volunteers and monitors can best help FWC in reporting suspected violations.

According to Alli Smith, the lead researcher for Owl Watch Marco, there were 2,500 burrow observations, totaling 342 hours of monitoring for 185 owl pairs. Last year at mid-season, there were 170 nesting pairs of owls. Based on the mid-season numbers, it does not look like Hurricane Irma had a negative effect on the burrowing owl nesting population.

According to Owl Watch Marco, there are 241 burrowing owl sites in Marco Island. They are broken down into 19 groups of 10-14 sites each. A monitor is assigned one of these 19 neighborhoods to check throughout the nesting season from March through July.

Alli Smith has banded 34 owls in Marco and will be banding more. Alli is fully licensed and permitted by Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), U.S. Fish and Wildlife (USFWS), and U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and can legally band the burrowing owls of Marco as part of her research. By banding the burrowing owls, she can better track the owls throughout its’ lifetime.

Piper’s News, Coastal Breeze News’ adopted owl, with its colorful bands, recorded in specific order: white/metal – yellow/white. The metal band is always on the left leg.

The “Adopt a Starter Burrow Program“ has been huge success. Owl Watch of Marco with the permission from lot owners has dug 40 starter burrows. Four of those starter burrows have owls using them for nesting this season. According to Alli Smith, this is a big part of her research, “Whether the starter burrows work and whether the owls are successfully using them to raise their young.” In the future, this could give the owls more nesting space as Marco Island gets more developed.

Brad Cornell of AWE wants everybody to know that owls and homeowners can coexist on Marco Island. Having burrowing owls in your neighborhood should be viewed as an amazing asset to the city.

FWC Law Enforcement Officer Plussa spoke about the need for balance in the human-wildlife relationship. The agency’s function and responsibilities are to patrol, protect and preserve Florida’s natural resources and the people who enjoy them through proactive and responsive law enforcement services. Public safety is their first priority.

Officer Plussa offered tips on how volunteers and monitors can help FWC Law Enforcement when they encounter a suspected violation:

  •   Do not confront potential violators or trespasser.
  •   Observe action from a safe place.
  •   Document vehicle/vessel tag and description.
  •   Obtain a subject description and take photos.
  •   Call FWC Law Enforcement Dispatch at 305-470-6863 (#7 for live person).

Important Note: Violation must occur in law enforcement’s presence. When in doubt, call dispatch immediately and do not alert the potential violator.

For questions or concerns relating to burrowing owls, email owlwatchmarco@gmail.com.

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