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Saving screech owls on Sanibel

By Staff | Apr 22, 2015

Doris Hardy of Sanibel became alerted of the amount of screech owls being hit between mile markers five and seven on Sanibel-Captiva Road. So she formed the Save Our Screech Owls (SOSO) group. Hardy poses with her carved screech owl, designed by Jim Sprankle of Sanibel. BRIAN WIERIMA

When Sanibel resident Doris Hardy put up a screech owl house near her lanai a couple of years ago, she didn’t realize it would lead to a movement of saving the small-feathered bird.

What resulted after a high amount of car strikes, resulting in 40 reported screech owl deaths since last October, it was enough for the Sanibel City Council to pass an amendment and funds to put up two solar-powered lighted signs, warning drivers to slow down between mile markers five and seven on Sanibel-Captiva Road.

Hardy’s journey started when her bird house became occupied by a screech owl, and she became more aware of the birds’ presence on the island, as well as the disturbingly amount of road kills during her routine walks down Sanibel-Captiva Road.

“I learned, as it got darker, my screech owl would fly towards the bayou and then fly over the road to hunt,” Hardy said. “During my walks, which is usually between mile markers five and seven, I started to notice a dead bird here, a dead bird there and I didn’t like it. After about three of them, I started to get a little concerned because that seemed like too many.”

The final straw came when she recognized one of the dead screech owls on the road was the one which occupied her bird house.

“When I lost my screech owl, that was end the line for me,” Hardy said.

She eventually was in contact with the Sanibel Natural Resource director Holly Milbrandt about the increasing screech owl deaths occurring by car strikes between mile markers five and seven.

Hardy didn’t stop there, as she informed neighbors about the screech owls, which started the formation of Save Our Screech Owls (SOSO).

“I thought it was time to activate something,” Hardy said. “The number is now up to 40 since last October, so that got peoples’ attention. This is Sanibel sanctuary island, this shouldn’t happen.”

Milbrandt said the number of screech owls being killed as result of flying low to the ground during the night hours was alarming.

“Although we don’t have any records of screech owl population on the island, anytime there is that much reduction, it is concerning,” Milbrandt added.

The Sanibel City Council voted 5-0 to install two lighted signs, with the warning of: “Slow! Low Flying Owls” between mile markers five and seven.

The LED lighted signs are 30-inch across, with eight lights framing it. The lights are solar powered and will have a dusk to dawn sensor to activate it, and a motion sensor to stop blinking 30 seconds after a car has passed it.

Each sign costs $1,999 each and is manufactured by Solar Traffic Signs Incorporated out of Rockdale, Ill.

“We think the lighted sign is definitely important, especially at night, and it will help motorists be aware of situation,” Milbrandt said. “It’s important to get the motorists’ attention. Now hopefully most people think it’s a worthwhile cause to slow down.”

Hardy will continue to record and monitor owl kills on the road and in a year, she will report back to the Council to let them know if the signs are effective.

But in the meantime, with the signs expected to be up by summer and for next year’s busy season, there will be plenty of warning for people to slow down and help save a screech owl.

Thanks to Hardy.