Marco Island, Florida, U.S.A. - Those cute little burrowing owls, which are seen all over Marco Island, are apparently melting a few hearts while they continue to flourish.
According to the City of Marco Island's environmental specialist Nancy Richie,
that's despite the dry weather and continuous build-up of the island.
Richie recently reported to her "Owl Watch" volunteers that she's been receiving
phone calls from people who admit that previously they didn't really care for
the feathery creatures.
"People will call and they'll say they weren't all that enamored with owls to
begin with, but that it's been really fun to watch the chicks and the mothering
of the owls," she said. "Or they'll just want to tell their story about how
they've lived on Marco Island for so long and they've finally noticed them. So
it's been kind of refreshing."
Richie thinks it helps that she has more volunteers now talking about the
burrowing owls on the island.
"People are just more aware, now," she added. "I've always found that education
and interest that might graduate to strong interest and even admiration, leads
to conservation. That's a good thing."
Despite the recent spell of dry winter, the owls on the island are apparently
"We're a little above last year's number of active burrows," said Richie. "An
active burrow is one that produces the chicks. Not every burrow on Marco is an
The state describes an active burrow as not one that has one or even two owls
living in the burrow. An active burrow is actually defined as a burrow that
houses eggs or flightless young.
Out of 117 burrow locations on Marco Island, 59 percent of them (or 69 total)
are active burrows by definition.
"We are just barely above last year's number of active nests," she said. "I call
it 'steady.' I was actually expecting lower numbers because of development."
Richie added that the chick count has been higher than expected within the
"A burrow can have one to seven chicks, and usually you see two or three. And
you're happy when there's four," she said. "But this year, we're seeing five,
six and seven. It's just my opinion, but we didn't have rain during the hatching
and nesting season and it could be that the eggs were just more viable and they
all were able to hatch and make it."
The important months were January, February and March, when there was virtually
no rain on Marco Island.
"It's interesting because we had a hurricane last year and we're having
development, so I thought this might be the year I saw numbers go down, maybe 10
or 15 percent," she added. "But for them to hold their own is kind of an
"Maybe they're becoming urbanized," she added with a laugh.
Interestingly, Richie said the burrows are usually OK when it rains.
"Sometimes you'll see them standing out in the rain," she said. "Their burrows
are dug kind of like the pipe under your sink - they go down and then up."
During a particularly heavy rain last year, when the burrows were flooded out,
Richie said that once the water receded, the owls were back digging within 24
The environmental specialist talked about an interesting situation on Barbarosa
Court going on right now.
"A builder is building with a burrow on the front corner of the property," she
said. "The owls dug at the spike on the property line. That might have been the
attraction. They have two chicks. The builder could have received a permit to
destroy the burrow legally, but they decided because the burrow is in that
corner, and going the opposite direction, they really don't need to impact it."
She said the burrow is only about 15 feet from the construction area.
"I had them put a fence up (around the burrow), but some of the neighbors got
upset because they couldn't believe they were building," she added. "I know it's
stressful for the owls. They're kind of freaking out with everything so close.
But we could have just legally had that burrow collapsed. But we've been trying
to save that burrow."
The builders, J.J. Baker, according to Richie, have been telling their
subcontractors to be careful and not to impact the burrow.
"The owls may eventually move," concedes Richie. "But they might just stay in
that burrow because they've been there for a while."
Meanwhile, Richie now has close to 30 people on her "Owl Watch." In the past,
she had only had a handful of interested folks working with her. She credits
media coverage and local publicity for the growth in interest.
If you're interesting in becoming part of Nancy Richie's "Owl Watch," call
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