Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Romance, Tragedy & Hope for Ocean the Owl


Photos by Jean Hall
| Burrowing Owls displaying affectionate courtship behavior of head rubbing.


Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all

~ Emily Dickinson


 

Marco is home to several protected wildlife species and most prominent among them is the diminutive charismatic burrowing owl – Athene cunicularia floridana. Though small in stature, islanders refer to the burrowing owl as the “unofficial” bird of Marco Island. 

Sandy, Ocean’s second “wife” with band colors Yellow-Metal and Blue-Green. She lost her first mate and hooked up with Ocean. They did not produce chicks and Sandy was later found dead by the burrow.

This is the story of Ocean, a burrowing owl that was banded as an adult in the summer of 2018. No way to determine how old he was when banded. Ocean’s first “wife” was also banded, and they were the first banded pair of owls on the beach for 2018-2019 season. They had a burrow on the far north side of Residents’ Beach and produced five chicks. His first “wife” disappeared shortly thereafter, never to be seen again.

Around the same timeline, on the south side of Residents’ Beach, another pair of owls were banded – which now gave a total of 4 banded owls on the beach for the 2018-2019 season. Shortly after banding the south side owls, the male disappeared and was never re-sighted. 

Now, we have a situation where there is a bachelor on the north side and a single female on the south side of the boardwalk. Both had lost their mates. The south side owl was named Sandy. If you believe in “fate” or “kismet” – Ocean hooked up with Sandy and moved into her southside burrow. Sandy was Ocean’s second “wife” and was an “Adopt an Owl” recipient. No chicks were produced from the pairing of Ocean and Sandy.

Many beachgoers might remember Ocean as he used to sit on the Residents’ Beach boardwalk and tolerated visitors taking photos or even selfies with him. His favorite activity was jousting with the mockingbirds. 

Then in early 2020, Sandy was found dead by the burrow entrance and Ocean was also found ill and taken to Von Arx Wildlife Hospital. It was suspected that both ate wildlife with rodenticide. Ocean was very lucky and was later released back near the southside burrow.

 



 

For the rest of 2020 through early 2021, Ocean has been seen hanging around the southside burrow without a mate. On February 2021, a bad windstorm came, and sand drifts blocked the entrance to the burrow, but Ocean survived and dug a new burrow further up the dunes. 

Ocean’s first wife (perched) also banded in 2018 with her band colors – Yellow-Metal and Red-Orange. Shown here with their five chicks shortly before she disappeared.

On March 19, 2021 Ocean was photographed with a new and third “wife” – an un-banded female! Let’s hope for a happier ending for Ocean for this nesting season and may they produce healthy and strong chicks and pass their strong genes to the next generation of Marco Island burrowing owls.

Being superstitious, we will defer naming Ocean’s third “wife” after we see healthy chicks. Or, better yet, you can adopt banded Ocean under the Owl Watch Adopt an Owl Program.

How did we track Ocean’s trials and tribulations? We got to follow Ocean’s life through the burrowing owl research and banding project. A University of Florida researcher allows Marco’s Owl Watch monitors to sight and keep track of owls year after year.

According to Lori Beall, Program Director of the Audubon of the Western Everglades (AWE), there are over 100 banded owls on Marco Island which were banded in 2018-2019. With the pandemic affecting the monitoring season in 2020, not much re-sighting was done, nor had they implemented new banding. 

So, for now the Owl Watch monitors are collecting re-sighting data of the owls currently banded. Per Beall, getting good re-sight data will also tell us what happened to the juvenile owls that were banded in the past and how many were recruited into the adult population.

If you see any banded owls, please take a photo, or note its location and send your information to OwlWatchMarco@gmail.com, or to AudubonWE@live.com. If you are interested in the Adopt an Owl Program, please indicate your interest at the above emails.

 


With owl nesting season underway – please note the following Nesting Season Etiquette when observing owls:

  • Move slowly and quietly.
  • Respect private property posting.
  • Do not enter, lean over, or extend your camera or phone into posted areas.
  • Stay low or sit when possible.
  • Never feed the owls.
  • Be mindful of owl behavior – back away if owls appear agitated.


 

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