Marco Island's Beloved Burrowing Owl
As the island grows (more houses being built) the burrowing owls are becoming harder for visitors and island residents to see. They are protected when the owls are actively nesting there but when the babies have left and the adults stop using the nest, it is then possible to build on the lot. The Burrowing Owl Society provides starter packs for home owners who want to encourage owls to nest on their property as the number of vacant lots on the island is diminishing fast.
Owls are unmistakable birds, and that goes double for a long-legged owl that hunts on the ground during the day. Burrowing Owls are small, sandy colored owls with bright-yellow eyes. They live underground in burrows they’ve dug themselves or taken over from a ground squirrel, or tortoise. They live in grasslands, deserts, and other open habitats, where they hunt mainly insects and rodents. Their numbers have declined sharply with human alteration of their habitat and the decline of ground squirrels.
Cool Facts Unlike most owls in which the female is larger than the male, the sexes of the Burrowing Owl are the same size.
Burrowing Owls often stow extra food to ensure an adequate supply during incubation and brooding. When food is plentiful, the birds' underground larders can reach enormous sizes.
In the absence of suitable homes created by ground squirrels, prairie dogs, desert tortoises, or other burrowing animals, Burrowing Owls have been known to nest in piles of PVC pipe and other lairs unintentionally provided by humans. Conservationists make use of the owls' adaptability by supplying artificial burrows made of buckets, pipes, tubing, and other human-made materials.
Burrowing Owls have a higher tolerance for carbon dioxide than other birds—an adaptation found in other burrowing animals, which spend long periods underground, where the gas can accumulate to higher levels than found above ground.
Before laying eggs, Burrowing Owls carpet the entrances to their homes with animal dung, which attracts dung beetles and other insects that the owls then catch and eat. They may also collect bottle caps, metal foil, cigarette butts, paper scraps, and other bits of trash at the entrance, possibly signifying that the burrow is occupied.
The nest burrow can be several yards long and is usually less than 3 feet deep, but size depends on the mammal that originally excavated it. Burrows tend to make numerous twists and turns, with a mound of dirt at the entrance and an opening at least 4–6 inches wide. The owls often line their burrow with livestock manure, sometimes with feathers, grass, or other materials. When owls dig their own burrows, the process may take several days, but it takes them less time to prepare the burrow for nesting when they use an existing burrow.
Burrowing Owls hunt at all hours of the day and night. Usually staying close to the ground, they fly, hover, walk, or run, seizing prey in their talons. Between forays for food, they sleep on dirt mounds at their burrow entrances or on depressions in the ground. Disturbed owls bob jerkily up and down, as do hunting owls pinpointing prey. They are mostly monogamous and breed close together in loose colonies. Females stay in or near the nest burrow until chicks fledge, while males tend to stand guard at a nearby burrow or perch. Males defend their territories against other males by vocalizing, displaying in a weaving crouch with feathers fluffed, or chasing and attacking with outstretched talons. Courting adults—mainly males—display by circling overhead or flying dozens of feet into the air, hovering for a few seconds and then rapidly descending. Pairs vocalize, rub bills, and preen, the male calling and presenting food to the female. Young owls play-hunt by jumping on each other, on prey brought by their parents, and on dung around the burrow.
Nova Homes of South Florida is a proud supporter of Marco Island's Burrowing Owls. Nova understands the effects building can have on the bird population, and takes every precaution to protect these lovable little owls. For more information contact Nick Cornwell at 239.776.5076 or BuildNow@NovaHomesBuilder.com