Friday, January 28, 2011

Cape Coral's Burrowing Owls

Cape Coral is a city of about 160,000 in Lee County, Florida, near the Gulf Coast. Apparently it is the 2nd largest Florida city by area, but it doesn't have a big city feel. It might be called the "Venice of the America's", as there are some 400 miles of canals - more than any other city on earth.

But I wasn't here to seek gondolas - it was one of the most curious of feathered beasts that I sought.

A seemingly innocuous side street in residential Cape Coral. But wait! What are those exclosures dotting the grassy sands?

They're ropes strung to delineate active Burrowing Owl burrows! Here, a little fellow peeks from his lair. The wooden stake is there to provide a perch. It isn't hard to find Burrowing Owls in Cape Coral. Just troll the side streets and look for the short wooden crosses and/or roped off plots. When such a site is found, get out and look closely for the little owl. Big sudden movements may startle them and the owl will instantly duck out of site underground, but with a bit of patience one can walk right up to them.

Burrowing Owls are diurnal - active in the day - and thus can be easy to observe. The Cape Coral birds, given their close proximity to people, have become quite tame. I was able to sidle to within ten feet of this bird, and it would scarcely even give me a glance. I can't even imagine how cool it would be to have these as "yard birds", and watch them court, hunt, and raise young at fingertip range.

Note the long powerful legs and big feet. This is an owl adapted for a thoroughly terrestrial lifestyle. Those stiltlike legs also elevate the owl and give it a better view of its surroundings. While perfectly capable of excavating a burrow of their own, Burrowing Owls often utilize old armadillo holes or those of other digging animals.

An estimated 1,000 pairs of Burrowing Owls dwell within Cape Coral's limits - the largest concentration of owls in the state. Like many other species of indigenous Florida wildlife, Burrowing Owls are under siege due to rampant, often poorly thought out development. This species is now listed as a species of "special concern" by the state, and a great many of their former haunts have been destroyed.

Total Burrowing Owl estimates for Florida range from a high of 10,000 pairs to as few as 3,000. Cut the difference and figure there's maybe 6,500 pairs still tunneling in the landscape, and one quickly sees the significance of Cape Coral as a refugia for these tunneling hooters. Perhaps one-sixth of ALL of Florida's Burrowing Owls live here.

To their credit, the city does work diligently to protect the owls, and promote their well-being. Developers are provided guidelines to work around nesting sites, and residents are encouraged to take steps to create better conditions for the owls. A group known as the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife even sponsors a "Burrowing Owl Festival".

If you are ever in the area, take some time and investigate the Burrowing Owls of Cape Coral. Their relationship with people in this city of canals is certainly one of the more interesting interactions of man and beast.

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9 comments:

Elaine said...

Jim,
We are in Venice, FL and heading for Corkscrew Swamp in a couple of day. Could you email me privately and tell me where you saw the Owls at Cape Coral? Thanks. Elaine Snively

nina said...

Wow, wow, wow!
He is adorable!
Glad to see that those in this area are being appropriately safeguarded.

I guess asking how you like your new camera would yield an obvious answer?

Janet Creamer said...

Nice shots,Jim! Very cool! So what did you do to it? It looks a little peeved...

What is the pink flowering plant next to the owl?

Buford Nature said...

That plant may be a Stellaria (chickweed - appropriate, eh?).

B Owls also can dig their own burrows from scratch (heh heh) or re-excavate an abandoned gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) burrow to its own specs. Pretty cool to watch them run down prey. Another bird, the crested caracara, lives in the same grassy prairie habitat, and it too has long legs for outrunning prey.

Jim McCormac said...

Hi Elaine,

Owls can easily be found along sw 42nd Terrace off pelican blvd on the south side of the park with ballfields. Watch for monk parents in the area too.

Beverly said...

Jim,
Thanks for the informative information about "our" Burrowing Owls here in Cape Coral. They are quite a treasure. I have Burrowing Owls living on my front lawn and they are a hoot to watch.
One correction. While the Western species of the Burrowing Owl does take advantage of Armadillo burrows, they are not very common in Cape Coral. Our owls do dig their own burrows in the soft sandy soil.
Just a word of caution. While they are quite tolerant of humans, we do ask that visitors keep a respectable distance from them, especially during the nesting season.

For more info on the owls, check out www.capecoralburrowingowls.com (where guided, informational tours are available) and www.ccfriendsofwildlife.org.

Our festival is the 4th Saturday in February every year. Feb 26th 2011.
Beverly (aka Owl Lady)

Dave said...

Cool shots Jim!
That's a bird I would love to get a shot of some day...

Elaine said...

Jim,
Today we followed your directions and were rewarded with looks at 5 Burrowing Owls in Cape Coral. Thanks again for the tip. They are my 346th Florida State bird
species.

Jim McCormac said...

Excellent Elaine, I'm glad that you got to see the leggy little hooters. And 346 is a phenomenal FL list!