Thursday, December 2, 2021

What’s on the Menu for Hungry Owl Chicks?

Photos by Jean Hall
| A STARE of six owl chicks not quite ready to fly. By six weeks the chicks will fledge but stay within the natal burrow to forage.


Burrowing Owl nesting season is in full swing and owl monitors are reporting new chicks every time they visit their list of burrows. Brittany Piersma, Owl Watch field biologist for the Audubon of the Western Everglades, reported that a large lot that she recently surveyed with 144 gopher tortoise burrows is also a new home to a Burrowing Owl family of eight (six chicks). This is a very busy intersection, but the owls seem to be adapting well to the presence of gopher tortoises and the hum of vehicular traffic.

This is too small for three of us!

Owl Watch Marco’s monitor, Jean Hall, observed that Marco’s owls have become somewhat resilient and do not let construction get in the way of them raising a family. Hall is giving a shout out to the contractors and builders who are properly protecting their construction sites for the nesting owls. 

If you are a Burrowing Owl, you don’t need much. You need shelter, food, and a mate. Owls depend on open spaces to nest but on Marco vacant lots are rapidly disappearing due to the boom of new home construction. 

With the help of humans in the form of starter burrows, owls are slowly adapting. Pretty soon, front yards will be the only spaces available for them. Burrowing Owls on Marco live in human modified habitats and this may be the only way to have a sustainable population on Marco. It is also a way for Marco Islanders to continue to enjoy and protect these charismatic raptors. 

Burrowing Owls need food sources, and they get plenty of it on Marco. To feed a brood of six is a full-time job for mom and dad owl. Marco’s well-watered front and backyards are veritable smorgasbord of small prey. Burrowing Owls feed primarily on grasshoppers, beetles, and other insects like cockroaches, crickets, frogs, small lizards, and even small rodents. 

Owl monitors have observed that owls eat anything smaller than them and have been known to take down a mockingbird and even a baby iguana. Fruits and human leftovers are not part of their diet. Burrowing Owls hunt anytime of the day or night. They either walk, hop, or run around the ground after prey near the burrow and younger owls take short hunting trips in the neighborhood with a parent.


It’s a frog and they will need to share!


CAUTION: Burrowing Owls feed on insects and rats, so it is important to reduce the use of insecticides near Burrowing Owl populations to reduce the chance of inadvertent owl poisoning. 

Several owls have been found dead near their burrows from the suspected ingestion of small mammals laced with rat poison. 

With an abundance of food and a comfortable burrow, an owl needs a mate! According to experts, females will choose the males with the best territory and the best provider. This way, they can successfully raise healthy chicks and will most likely be paired up longer.

Oh no, it’s a mockingbird, or what’s left of it.

The Burrowing Owl is Marco’s unofficial bird and who can resist their big yellow eyes, bobbing heads and crazy facial expressions. They are the size of a soda can and weigh even less. They are unique in the bird world – as they do not nest in trees but in underground burrows. 

What to do if you find an injured owl? Mary Aronin, an owl monitor, found an injured banded bird at a burrow site she was monitoring. She first called von Arx Wildlife Hospital and left a message (239-262-2273). Then she emailed Owl Watch Marco ( and a monitor met Mary at the site. According to Mary, “if you are able, gently pick up the owl and place owl in a towel inside a pet carrier; a cardboard box will do.” Mary transported the injured owl to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital, just south of the Naples Zoo on Goodlette Frank Road in Naples.

How can you help our Owls!

Be part of the Starter Burrow Program.

Limit use of rat poison. 

Drive carefully at night.

Keep cats and dogs indoors.

Become an owl watch volunteer.

Report malicious destruction or harassment of Burrowing Owls or their nests. 

1-888-404-FWCC (3922)



One response to “What’s on the Menu for Hungry Owl Chicks?”

  1. We need to end the use of rat poison, not just limit its use. It is inhumane and, as the article notes, causes secondary poisoning. The animals at risk are not only owls and other wildlife but also pets.

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