owl watch

 Photo © Jean Hall

Owl Watch is a citizen-science, volunteer-based project founded to help monitor and protect the Burrowing Owls of Marco Island, FL. Under the guidance of Audubon Western Everglades (AWE) and our partners at the University of Florida (UF), we train and mentor volunteers in conducting scientific surveys to measure nesting success and track changes in the population of Burrowing Owls in Marco Island over time. 

Owl Watch was founded in 2016 on the concerns of Marco Island citizens and their love for the Burrowing Owls, and its success now depends on collaboration with our partners, including the City of Marco IslandUF-IFAS, dedicated volunteers, and caring citizens like you, your family, and your friends.

Monitoring & Protecting Owls

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meet the florida
burrowing owl

Gentle, Threatened Birds

  Burrowing Owls are water bottle-sized birds, standing 7-10″ tall, and weighing 5-9 oz, or   

  about as much as a baseball. These small owls spend the breeding season (February-July)

  in and around their burrows, which they typically dig themselves. Male owls can often be

  seen standing on a nearby perch or at the burrow entrance, watching vigilantly for 

  predators or passing prey while females and young chicks stay below ground. Outside nesting season, Burrowing Owls seek shelter in a variety of places outside their burrow, like shrubs, trees, porches, and dry culverts. 

The Florida Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia floridana) is a non-migratory subspecies of the wide-ranging Burrowing Owl. Historically, these owls occupied Florida’s expansive prairies north of the everglades.

However, most of these historic grasslands have been developed.Today Burrowing Owls can be found on prairie remnants and pastures throughout the state, as well as in several coastal cities.

Unlike Western Burrowing Owls that inhabit the abandoned burrows dug by other animals, Florida Burrowing Owls typically dig their own burrows. These burrows consist of a 5-12′ tunnel, dipping down as much as 3′ below the surface, and ending in a large nest chamber. Here, the female will lay 1-7 eggs and incubate them for about a month. Once the eggs hatch, both parents hunt to feed their chicks. Owls eat a wide array of prey including beetles, small snakes, Cuban tree frogs, songbirds, crayfish, lizards, spiders, and other invertebrates. Unlike most owls, Burrowing Owls are active during the day, though they hunt mostly at night. 

The threat to burrowing owls

In 2016, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission placed Florida's Burrowing Owls on their Threatened list.  Urban owls have diminished due to vehicle collisions, predation or injury by domestical animals, and burrow destruction from mowers or other equipment.  

Rural owls are not immune to threats. Their once-protected habitat has been compromised by the lure of hazardous environments that mimic their native environment - such as those undergoing redevelopment activities (vegetation clearning) - but actually put them at risk.

Both Burrowing Owls and their burrows are protected by law. The presence of owls does NOT prohibit the development of a property. If Burrowing Owls or their burrow are present, an incidental Take Permit is required. With the permit, a Registered Agent can remove burrows if no eggs or flightless checks are present, and construction can then begin.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Audubon Western Everglades is committed to restoring protected areas for these Threatened birds to nest, breed, and flourish. Here are some ways our collaboration with citizens, volunteers, and partners are making a difference:

how we keep watch

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Photo © Jean Hall

Monitoring

The work of volunteers on Marco Island helps biologists chart and protect burrowing owls. More>

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Maintenance

Learn the various ways Owl Watch volunteers help maintain a safe habitat for burrowing owls. More>

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Research

AWE supports research crucial to the conservation of Southwest Florida's Burrowing Owls. More>

MONITORING BURROWING OWLS

Throughout the nesting season (February – July),   over 76 volunteers monitor 366 burrow sites on Marco Island. Each week, these volunteers survey for adult owls, chicks emerging from the burrows, banded individuals, new burrows, and city code violations threatening owl burrows. From their efforts, we can determine the number of nesting pairs and the number of chicks they fledge each year.  Data collected by Owl Watch volunteers is used by UF biologists to track changes in Marco Island’s

Burrowing Owl population over time.

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maintenance

If you drive around Marco Island, you will see postings of  Burrowing Owl burrows in almost every neighborhood. A small group of specially trained Owl Watch volunteers are responsible for posting perches and PVC and rope fencing around new burrows and maintaining them throughout the year. These postings protect burrows that are vulnerable to collapse by lawnmowers and vehicles. We hire specially trained landscapers to safely trim the grass within the postings during the non-breeding season, at no charge to landowners.

Landowners are responsible for preventing the collapse of any owl burrow on their property, and violations can incur steep fines from FWC, whether the collapse was intentional or unintentional. These postings around burrows help alert contractors, landscapers, and citizens to the locations of burrows vulnerable to collapse, providing peace of mind to landowners and wildlife enthusiasts alike. 

Photo © Jean Hall

research

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Photo © Jean Hall

Audubon of the Western Everglades and Owl Watch support the research of graduate students from the University of Florida in the Department of Wildlife Ecology and Conservation. Current research is looking at burrowing owl space use, population genetics, and nesting site selection. This research is providing government agencies, conservation practitioners, and landowners with vital information about the Burrowing Owls that will be essential to the conservation of this threatened species. 

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why researchers band owls

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Photo © Jean Hall

AWE has partnered with the Rangeland Wildlife Lab at the University of Florida (UF-IFAS) to learn more about the Burrowing Owls of Marco Island. Burrowing Owls are being banded as part of a UF study across Southwest Florida. Each owl receives a unique combination of three plastic color bands and one metal band issued by the federal Bird Banding Laboratory at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). These bands allow researchers and volunteers to identify individual owls throughout nesting season and from year to year. Data collected from sightings of these banded owls are used to answer questions about Burrowing Owl lifespan, reproductive success, dispersal, and survival, which are essential to the conservation of this threatened species. Click to learn more about UF’s research. .

9 ways you can help
burrowing owls

Urban Burrowing Owls primarily reside on vacant lots amid developing neighborhoods. Population strongholds like Marco Island and Cape Coral are facing a multitude of threats as open space is developed. But, there are many things you can do at home to help conserve Burrowing Owls into the future. Check out the list below for 9 ways you can help!

join the owl watch team of volunteers 

Owl Watch and Audubon Western Everglades are always looking for volunteers! Whether you have a background in fundraising, management, design, biology, or just want to help birds and other wildlife, we have a way you can help. Our volunteers help run events, shorebird stewardship, owl monitoring, office logistics, and many other tasks. Are you interested in volunteering? Email the AWE staff at audubonwe@live.com and they will help find a project that fits your interests.

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volunteer

Photo © Jean Hall

rewarding ways to make a financial gift

Audubon of the Western Everglades provides Owl Watch with technical, logistical, and financial support. AWE is funded entirely on donations. Without the generosity of our donors, none of our work would be possible. Here are a few ways your can support our program financially:

  • Owl Patrons: Annual Support of our Owl Watch Program 

  • One-Time Gift: Every Dollar helps Owl Watch

  • Amazon Wish List: Purchase Specific needed Items On Our List

  • Amazon Smile: Your Everyday Purchases Can Benefit Owl Watch

  • Adopt an Owl: Sponsor an Owl on Our Watch - see more below. 

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donate

keep human food away from owls

Not feeding wildlife is a simple way to protect your local Burrowing Owls, beach-nesting birds, and all the other wildlife of Marco Island. Despite the good intentions, feeding wildlife is not ethical. And on Marco Island, feeding wildlife is strictly prohibited in the city’s Code of Ordinances.

Owls are carnivores and will not eat bread, vegetables, or any other human food left in their burrows. Leaving these items attracts predators of owls. Feeding wildlife habituates animals to unnaturally close contact with humans and reinforces these harmful behaviors. Continued contact with humans can lead to wildlife being euthanized. Keeping trash receptacles closed and not placing food at burrows can make a big difference.

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do not feed wildlife

help make a safe home for owls

As vacant lots are developed, Burrowing Owls are forced to move to new locations. AWE is currently researching the space requirements of the owls, and whether owls can be encouraged to inhabit smaller green spaces – like corners of lawns – by attracting owls to nest in starter burrows.

If you’re interested in getting your own Starter Burrow, please email us at owlwatchmarco@gmail.com.

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install starter burrows

drive with care at night

Every year, volunteers and members of the public bring many Burrowing Owls to the Von Arx Wildlife Hospital because of car collisions.

 

Burrowing Owls are active at the burrows during the day, however, they hunt primarily at night. Owls are often seen at night hunting beetles around porch lights and car headlights. By driving slowly,

you can reduce the likelihood of hitting a Burrowing Owl.

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 night driving care

cats are predators of birds-   including owls!

Feral and outdoor cats are another one of Burrowing Owl’s main predators.

 

Cats prey on both adults and chicks. Regardless of how much cats are fed by humans, they still kill songbirds, lizards, native rodents, snakes, and owls.

 

By keeping cats indoors, you can help save countless lives of native wildlife, and also keep your pet safe from cars and other predators.

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keep cats indoors

pesticides & rodenticides
kill owls!

The pesticides and poisons we use in our environment have many unseen impacts. In particular, poisons can bioaccumulate (build up) or cause secondary poisonings (poisoning from eating a poisoned animal). Rodenticides are anticoagulants that take time to work. Poisoned rodents are active in the environment for a while before they die, leaving them lethargic and easy prey for owls, other predators, and pets.

Owls, hawks, and other predators suffering from rodenticide poisoning are frequently brought to wildlife hospitals, and many do not survive. These deaths are 100% preventable. Using alternative rodent control methods, like traps, can make a difference in the lives of countless native predators.

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limit pesticides
& rat poisons

owls need safe land to burrow in and thrive.

Available habitat for Burrowing Owls and other wildlife is dwindling in Florida, especially in coastal urban and suburban areas. If you can make a gift of land to be conserved into the future, or want to contribute to land acquisition, please email the staff of Audubon Western Everglades at audubonwe@live.com

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contribute to conservation land acquisition

you can make a difference!

Each season, Owl Watch needs funds to purchase materials for

posting new burrows, hire trained professional landscapers to

weed-whack postings, and buy supplies to continue our

community outreach and education.

By *symbolically adopting a Burrowing Owl, you can help fund the critical needs of the Owl Watch program on Marco Island.

 

adopt an owl*

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adopt an owl

Symbolically adopting one of the adorable burrowing owls under the watchful care of our team is not only a way to support our work and protect these amazing birds; it provides a tangible and rewarding

connection to them and their offspring.

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Multiple Levels of Adoption

Adoptions are annual. You can adopt an owl at one of four different levels of support:

1. Level 1 Adoption:

$100

2. Level 2 Adoption

$250

3. Level 3 Patron

$500

4. Level 4 Patron

$1000

Adoption Makes A Great Gift

Depending on the level of adoption, donors can receive one or more of the following acknowledgment gifts and recognition:

  • An adoption certificate (all)

  • Your adopted owl’s photo (all)

  • Your owl’s nesting season summary (all)

  • Burrowing owl fact sheet (all)

  • Linen notecards w/owl photography (Level 2+)

  • Plush Owl Puppet (2+)

  • Special recognition on our website (Level 3+)

  • Recognition in our annual report (Level 3+)

  • Name an Owl (Level 4)

  • Private guided tour (for 4) of burrows (Level 4)

  • Lunch with an AWE team member (Level 4)

Give Us Some Love :)

will you adopt me?

Photo © Jean Hall

Oscar is a male Owl banded as an adult on 5/11/2019. His mate was banded the same day. In 2019, Oscar and his mate fledged 3 chicks.  There are 2 pairs at this same address, which is unusual. They all live on a very big lot. Both of the pairs had chicks in 2021. Sometimes Oscar is seen looking over his family from the telephone wires.

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Photo © Jean Hall

Romeo is a male Owl, who was first banded as a chick 4/15/2018. Romeo’s mate is also color banded, and they had 2 chicks in the 2021 season. Sadly, one of those chicks  was found near the road (possible car strike) and taken to the Conservancy of SW Florida for rehab.  It’s unknown if the chick survived.

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Photo © Jean Hall

Marley is a male Owl who was color banded as an adult on 3/14/2018. Within 2 months, he and his mate had fledged 6 chicks. A month later, the biologist doing research on this family reported 7 chicks, all fledgling size! Marley also fledged 2 chicks with his mate in 2020. He is often seen hanging out on mailboxes in his neighborhood.

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Photo © Jean Hall

Ocean, named in honor of his burrow location in the dunes of Marco Island Beach, was banded as an adult in 2018, along with his mate. Sadly, in early 2020, Ocean had to be taken to Conservancy of Southwest Florida for urgent care after suspected rodenticide poisoning, which claimed his mate. After a healthy rehab, he’s been solo for a while, but recently sighted with a new mate. Fingers crossed for nesting success for this tough, little owl.

owl watch partners

We Are In Such Good Company

Want to see your logo here?  Become a Level 4 Owl Patron>

owl merchandise

Share that you care in a visible way.

AWE Owl T-Shirt

  • Dry-fit, no-wrinkle fabric

  • Child sizes S-L ($15)

  • Adult sizes S-XL ($20)

Note Cards

  • 5-Pack cards + envelopes

  • 5 Unique Owl Images

  • Premium linen stock

  • Deckled edge

Our Owl merchandise is more than fun to look at or fashionable to wear - 100% of the profits from AWE merchandise fund the Owl Watch program.

 

These items make excellent gifts.

Coming Soon: 

The AWE Shop, where you can purchase AWE Owl Watch and other cool AWE merchandise.