Burrowing Owl festival attendance ‘double’ last year’s number
By MCKENZIE CASSIDY
Dozens of cars lined up on El Dorado Parkways try to gain admittance to Cape Coral’s annual Burrowing Owl Festival this weekend. They came from all over the world to pay homage to the city’s most recognized wildlife celebrity – the burrowing owl.
For lovers of nature the Burrowing Owl Festival is the Woodstock of all wildlife festivals. According to Pascha Donaldson, president of Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife, the seventh annual festival shows the city that ecotourism is an untapped market.
“We want to emphasize that ecotourism is alive and that people from all over the world come to Lee County see the owls,” said Donaldson.
Each year the festival has expanded its size and available attractions, as well as the number of people who attend, and Donaldson explained that feature films such as “Hoot” and Betty Gilbert’s book “Buffy the Burrowing Owl,” have drawn international interest in spotting a local owl.
New additions to the festival included a children’s art and logo contest, extra food vendors, nature-oriented exhibitions and live musical performances. This year the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife also unveiled an advertising campaign in Charlotte, Collier and Lee counties to draw in a greater crowd.
“We are probably double than last year, the cars are lined up to Cape Coral Parkway,” said Donaldson.
Locally, the citizen-run Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife manages 1,200 burrowing owls in Cape Coral. They urge local residents to build a perch in their yard to attract a nest of owls and will even set it up as a free service to the community.
The proceeds from the annual festival helps pay for the PCV pipes used as perches, wood used to block off the nests and other supplies. The staff is made up of volunteers and receives no compensation.
“We have no paid staff, all of the money goes to the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife,” said Donaldson.
Besides showcasing the city’s official bird, the festival also educated the public on other species such as the American Bald Eagle and Osprey. During the festival families saw presentations on local bats and owls, and for $5 per person they could tour the city, while searching for burrows, aboard a charter bus.
A butterfly tent showcased examples of Florida’s natural plant life that happens to attract native species of butterflies including the Monarch, White Peacock and Great Southern White.
Kindness Animal Hospital hosted a tent for children to create arts and crafts related to burrowing owls or have their faces painted.
Officials working at the burrowing owl festival estimated over 1,000 people were in attendance, but they also said that many people were entering through the back of the festival and avoiding the entrance fee.
Donaldson explained that the goal of the festival is to show people how nature is interconnected.
“Every time a species disappears it means we are next,” she said. “People need to live in harmony with plants and animals.”