‘Largest crowd’ ever at Burrowing Owl Fest
The ninth annual Cape Coral Burrowing Owl Festival attracted a large enthusiastic crowd Saturday at Rotary Park who wanted to learn more about the city’s tiny mascots.
Pascha Donaldson, a member of the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife, said they had a great crowd, all of whom seemed to enjoy themselves during the annual festival.
“I think it is our largest crowd,” she said, attributing the attendance to the clear skies and warm weather.
The purpose of the festival is to educate the community about burrowing owls.
It’s about protection, education and preservation, Donaldson said , adding most people have never heard of a burrowing owl.
The burrowing owls of Florida are currently listed on Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissions list of species of special concern, which means they are at moderate risk of extinction in the future.
There are more than 2,000 burrows in Cape Coral but not all of them contain an owl because the birds typically have two or three different burrows.
“Every time it gets destroyed, it digs another,” Donaldson said.
She said fest volunteers provided information and demonstrations on how an individual can start their own burrow to attract the owls to their property. Individuals were taught how to locate a spot that would be safe for the owl, along with how deep and big the entrance of the burrow should be.
Lisa Burns came out to the festival Saturday to learn more about the “cute little burrowing owls,” along with learning how to make a starter burrow.
“We are going to start our own burrow to see if we can attract one,” she said while holding the T-perch in her hand for the burrow entrance.
Burns said she learned a lot more about the owls by attending the festival.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said about the “nice festival.”
Jim and Rose Gardner also attended the festival for the first time this year and were pleased with what they saw. Jim said they read about the event every year and decided this year to finally attend. He said he was glad they did because the casual, slow pace allowed him to venture through the park at his own pace to learn more about the owls.
Rose said she did not realize that burrowing owls habitats could be your front yard.
“I always thought they were up in the trees,” she said, adding that she was glad she attended because she learned a lot of very interesting information about the owls. “I’m sure we will come again.”
The festival included various speeches from Dan Tudor and Charles Sobczak, along with guided walks, informational guides in the butterfly house and burrowing owl bus tours. More than 30 exhibitors filled three large tents at Rotary Park Saturday afternoon to provide information about various non-profit and profit organizations.
There was also a wildlife art contest that had artwork hung from Oasis Elementary School, Christa McAuliffe Elementary School, Fort Myers Christian School, North Fort Myers Academy of the Arts, Cape Coral High School, Ida Baker High School, Oasis High School and Cape Coral Art League.
“It’s great for the kids to appreciate wildlife,” Donaldson said.
She said the festival also included a dedication to Thomas Allen who provided a permanent butterfly house fixture at Rotary Park.
“We named it in honor of him,” Donaldson said about the house.
Sandy Allen had a table set up during the festival to showcase her husband’s pictures, books and life as a wildlife biologist. She explained that her husband drew up the blueprints for the house after he decided to build a permanent fixture for the butterflies after a temporary house became extremely popular at the park.
Sandy explained that her husband was known as the “walking natural history encyclopedia” due to the knowledge he had.
“He is missed by a lot of people,” she said. “He was the go to person.”
To learn more about his legacy visit www.thomas-j-allen.com.
Cheryl Anderson stood inside the butterfly house throughout the festival to educate individuals about the life of the butterfly, which consists of the egg, caterpillar, cocoon and butterfly. Individuals had the opportunity to purchase a native plants and caterpillars Saturday afternoon for their gardens.
“His spirit is definitely here in this house,” she said about Thomas. She worked with him during the design and building processes of the butterfly house. “This is the last thing he did before he died.”
Anderson explained that the house consists of eight to 10 different species of butterflies, with a population of about 35 butterflies. She released 30 butterflies for the festival on Saturday.
Anderson said they raise the butterflies in the house before they release them into the wild.
Among the species was the Zebra Longwing Butterfly, which is the state butterfly for Florida. Anderson said they are raising the Zebras in the house to help control their conditions before releasing them into the wild because they want to bring them back into their natural habitats. Some of the Zebras that they have in the house have been living in there for two months.
A tagging program for the Monarch butterfly began a month ago, so Anderson could see how they are doing in the wild. She said she was going to tag the 14th Monarch during the festival on Saturday after she determined if it was a female or a male. A white square is stuck to their wings, so they can identify them when spotted in the outdoors. Due to a few other organizations participating in the program, a different color is used for each organization.
The first Monarch that was released was spotted a week later, she explained, which taught her something that she did not know before.
“We let them go and keep track of when we see them,” Anderson said. “We are real proud of it.”