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Burrowing owls unaffected by recent rains

By Staff | Aug 7, 2015

Despite all the rain that has been dumped on Southwest Florida in recent weeks, it didn’t really impact Cape Coral’s favorite bird.

Burrowing owls, despite having some of the burrows sunk in water, made it through the rain just fine since nesting season had ended and the owls are able to fly to higher ground, according to the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife.

Nesting season for burrowing owls is from the middle of February until the middle of July. However, by June, most of the owls are able to get out of the nest and have already fledged, according to Bernadette McNee, burrowing owl maintenance volunteer of the CCFW.

“Most of these nests are getting flooded now. We go out and clean them all the time and sometimes the grass is high and it’s flooded,” McNee said. “But by now, the owls aren’t using the burrows. They can hang out in trees, but the burrow is used for nesting purposes.”

McNee said the CCFW received numerous calls concerning the health of the protected species as rain pelted the area for three solid weeks.

Thankfully, the rains came just as all the baby owls had fledged and began looking for homes of their own.

“The birds grow quick from the time they hatch. Within a couple weeks, the babies start coming out. They’re not flying, but it only takes a couple weeks for them to fledge and fly around,” McNee said.

The worries come when the rain comes in March and April because that’s when they know the babies can’t get out when the burrows flood.

“There isn’t much you can do when the burrows fill up. The parents will get out and leave the chicks behind,” McNee said. “That only happened one year. The rest of the time the rain comes when it’s supposed to.”

McNee said the three main threats to the burrowing owl are flooding, predators and being hit by cars as they tend to fly low to the ground.

The burrowing owl is a species of special concern and protected by the Florida Fish and Wildlife. It is one of the smallest of all the owls, and the only owl that lives underground. Many of the approximately 1,500 owls dig their own burrows, with about 3,000 burrows in Cape Coral, McNee said, adding that during nesting season, the male owl will find his own burrow to stay in while the babies grow and room becomes scarce.

Many burrowing owls live in empty lots where the ground is easier to dig into. The CCFW does starter burrows which they start themselves and hope the owls will come to next year, McNee said.