by Kyle Sweet, Sanctuary Golf Course Superintendent
The Burrowing Owl spends the majority of its time on the ground, while living in open, treeless areas throughout the state of Florida. In many cases, these open, treeless areas are areas that are cleared for development such as in local communities of Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres. Other suitable areas for these owls are golf courses, pastures and agricultural fields. The sandy, less vegetated dune areas along the coastal edges of Sanibel and Captiva islands are also suitable habitat as well. Flooding and tidal influence can limit the use of these areas but burrowing owls have been documented on the islands.
The Burrowing Owl excavates its burrow with its relatively long legs, living and laying eggs during the breeding season period of mid-February to July. Females lay up to eight eggs and once hatched, the young owls scurry around the burrow with abundant activity, staying with the parents until about 12 weeks. As photographed, these “teenagers” provided for some great photo opportunities and are a common site during the late summer months in Cape Coral.
The diet of the Burrowing Owl consists of insects, small snakes, frogs, small lizards and rodents. During the breeding season, adults actively forage during the day but during other times of the year they are nocturnal and hunt throughout the night. Often, in areas of high population, they can be seen in flight all along roadways as well as perched on street signs and mailboxes in search of that next meal.
The Burrowing Owl faces many threats to their population and are a protected species. Loss of habitat due to construction, harassment by humans and domestic animals as well as vehicle strikes top the list of threats to this little owl.
Locally, the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife hosts an annual Burrowing Owl Festival during the winter season at Rotary Park in Cape Coral. The festival is a celebration of the owl, which is the official City bird and raises money to increase public awareness and provide for maintenance of their burrows. Thousands attend the annual one-day event. Island stars such as officials from the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge and staff from C.R.O.W. and S.C.C.F attend and provide educational materials. Wildlife and habitat experts from here and beyond provide educational opportunities to learn more about the Burrowing Owl as well as our other Southwest Florida animal species.
The Burrowing Owl may not be a star on Sanibel or Captiva but is a wildlife star to Southwest Florida. A visit to a local community that boasts a strong population of these owls is well worth the trip. Observe from a distance and as always, a good camera lens or spotting scope make the viewing so much more worth it! Enjoy!