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Living Sanibel: Burrowing owl

By Staff | Jun 21, 2017


The burrowing owl is best described as adorable. It was the subject for the 2002 children’s book “Hoot” by Carl Hiaasen and is a popular wildlife calendar subject in Florida. Its diminutive size, coupled with its long legs and large yellow eyes make it a favorite for photographers everywhere. One of the best places to find this owl is in Cape Coral, where it has adapted to living in a suburban environment. There are an estimated 1,000 breeding pairs located in the greater Cape area (see the Four-Mile Ecological Park in the Lee County section of this book for specific locales to find these owls). Every winter Cape Coral celebrates this fascinating bird with the Burrowing Owl Festival.

The conversion of much of its former range into farmland, suburban, and urban settings has had a major impact on the burrowing owl. It is believed that before these changes in the landscape, the burrowing owl inhabited every state in the union. Today its eastern range is limited to Florida, where it is a species of special concern. Its New World range runs from Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America all the way into the Northwest Territories of Canada. In this vast and open range it is not considered endangered.

As the name implies, the burrowing owl lives in burrows. While capable of digging its own burrow, it often takes up residence in abandoned gopher tortoise nests, prairie dog holes, and an assortment of human excavations. It is both diurnal and nocturnal, feeding on insects during daylight hours and small rodents such as moles and mice during the evening. The burrowing owl has been known to bring mammal dung to its burrow to attract dung beetles, which it then consumes. It is, in essence, bird farming.

Because it is a ground-dwelling and nesting bird, the burrowing owl is preyed upon by feral cats, snakes, and coyotes. Its nests are often raided by snakes and rats.

This is an excerpt from The Living Gulf Coast – A Nature Guide to Southwest Florida by Charles Sobczak. The book is available at all the Island bookstores, Baileys, Jerry’s and your favorite online sites.