Burrowing Owl

Five Juvenile Burrowing OwlsBurrowing Owl

At 100 square miles, Cape Coral, Florida is the second largest city, land wise, in the State of Florida with Jacksonville the only city that is larger.  Cape Coral also has the distinction of having the largest population of the Florida species of the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia floridana) in the State, with an estimated 1000 nesting pair.

At only 5-8.5 ounces and7.5-11 inches tall, the Burrowing Owl is one of the smallest of all the owls, and of the 171 species of owls worldwide, the only owl that lives underground.  Unlike the Western species of the Burrowing Owl (athene cunicularia hypugaea) that lives in abandoned prairie dog burrows, here in Florida our Burrowing Owls dig their own burrows.  Cape Coral has upwards of 2500 burrows within the City limits, but not all of them are actively being used by owls.

Photographers and birders alike come from all over the world to see our Burrowing Owls, and everyone is amazed at how easy it is to see and photograph these beautiful little birds.  This doesn’t come without a price.  Over the years, one of the main locations to see the Burrowing Owls is the Cape Coral Library. There were multiple burrows located on the streets surrounding the library, all of them very active.  Today, only one burrow is still active and it is thought that there was just too much human activity for the owls, and they moved on. While the owls are quite tolerant of humans, getting too close to them too often will cause them to abandon a burrow and move on to a quieter location.

While some of the Western Burrowing Owls migrate, the Burrowing Owls here in Cape Coral do not migrate.  They are here year round, but often hide in the summer to avoid the hot summer sun. The best time to see the owls is from January through June, and the best time to see the chicks is late April through June.

 

Rules of Engagement if you come to see our owls

  1.  Download a map of suggested sites to search for them yourself
  2. Call Rotary Park Environment Center to sign up for the guided bus tour to see the Burrowing Owls and other wildlife of Cape Coral.
  3. Keep your distance from the Burrowing Owls.  Every known burrow in the City that is located off residential properties has been marked with PVC pipes.  Burrowing Owls burrows can be 10 feet long, so the chamber where the owls live can extend OUTSIDE the marked area.  Approaching an owl closer than 20 feet is NOT recommenced, and staying for long periods of time is also not recommenced.  While the owls may seem unaffected by your presence, it is disruptive to their day to day activity, and may prevent them from hunting for food, especially when there are chicks present.
  4. The unique thing about the owls is that unlike other owls, they are out during day.  They can easily be observed sitting in front of the burrow or on the perches any time during the day. During nesting season which runs from February through July the male stands guard over the burrow for hours at a time, while the female is in the burrow with the eggs or young chicks. Once the chicks are about 10 days old, they will start to emerge from the burrow and you will see more of the female outside the burrow.
  5. For photographers, the first or last light of the day is best as the harsh Florida sun, does not lend itself to great photo shots. For birders, the hot sun during mid-day is also the least desirable time to see the owls.
  6. Do not feed the owls!  Their diet consists of mice, roaches, small snakes, anoles and frogs, and not crackers, peanuts, granola bars or McDonald’s French fries.

 

 

 


Comments

Burrowing Owl — 41 Comments

  1. I am coming to Cape Coral this week and would love to photograph the Burrowing Owls. I worked in Raptor Rescue in NC for several years working with many species but have never seen the Burrowing Owl. Can anyone tell me the best place to go to get some good photos of the owls?

    • You can check out the Pelican Ball Field Complex on Pelican Blvd. This is nesting season and it would be appreciated that you not linger at the sites for extended periods of time and maintain a 20 foot distance, or even greater if the owls seem disturbed.

  2. Hello- I am flying in to fort myers next week, specifically to see burrowing owls at cape coral, and wanted to ask about suitable locations to see and photograph them. It is my first time bird watching in Florida. Any tips appreciated 🙂

  3. I have noticed a new owl burrow across the street from me on a vacant lot, but I believed is owned by someone. I want to make sure the Owls are protected, would your organization be the one to contact to put up the posts/signs? Or do you wait for the burrow to be established for a longer period of time (I just noticed the owls/burrow yesterday)?

  4. what effect has the monitor lizards had on these little owls. I use to live in Cape Coral in the mid 90’s and there owls every where. only once did I see adults with chicks. what a thrill 🙂

    • Certainly the monitor lizards enjoy a burrowing owl now and again, but the biggest threats to the Burrowing Owls are cars, cats, hawks, pesticides on lawns, and human development. Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife has just given a grant to FGCU to study the owls. Hopefully this will give us a better idea of how the owls are doing.

  5. Hello, It would appear I have two owl nests on my vacant lot. It would appear the owls are being encouraged to nest on my lot that I am paying taxes on. New markers, and perches have been erected. I plan on building on the lot in the near future, and object to the encouragement of this nesting. I am not anti owl I just don’t want to pay for an owl habitat on my private property. Who has the authority to enter my property, and maintain the owl nests?? Where I come from this is trespassing. Sorry to be so negative, but I would be happy to relocate them to someone’s lot where they can be appreciated…

    • David,
      I can understand your concern. There is a great misunderstanding in Cape Coral that you cannot build a home on a property that has a Burrowing Owl living on. The Burrowing Owl, its nest and its eggs are protected by the FEDERAL MIGRATORY BIRD ACT. It is possible to build a home while at the same time protecting the owls. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission came to Cape Coral years ago and required them to place the markers around the burrows. This is not done to encourage them, but to protect the owls. The City asked for volunteers to help mark the 2800 +/- burrows, and out of that request for volunteers, Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife was formed. So in answer to your question about who has the authority to enter your property; Federal, State and local entities require it.
      Hopefully, the owls are located in such a spot that they will not have to be moved when you build your home. They are a great way to meet new neighbors, as people walking by are totally mesmerized by these beautiful little birds. I understand that you have been in contact with CCFW and you are hopeful that they eat snakes. Yes they do eat snakes! They also eat up to 1500 mice a year, so if the owls stay you most likely won’t have a rodent problem.

  6. We just returned from visiting friends in N. Ft. Myers and they took us to see the Burrowing Owls. (had never even heard of them before and thought they were joking!!) We were lucky enough to find 2 owls together at one burrow. They were darling and we were able to get a couple of pictures. Thanks to all of the folks who take the time to watch over these birds and help keep their environment in tact for future generations.

    • Cape Coral is home to the largest population of the Florida species of the Burrowing Owl and in fact we have more Burrowing Owls here than all of Canada. We are very proud of that fact and love when people come to our City just to see the owls. Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife and others are working hard to protect these little birds in the hopes that future generations will see them live and not just on YouTube. Thank you for your kind words.

  7. I have a Burrowing Owl that is sitting on the ledge of the window above my entrance way door. He doesn’t seem to be bothered by my coming and going but he’s been there a while now (we noticed him at 7:30 this morning) is he ok? Is this normal for them?

    • It is very common for the male Burrowing Owls to sit in front of the burrow guarding, for hours and hours at a time. They also often sit on window ledges where they afforded some protection for hawks. I bet if you go outside after dark he won’t be there, but out hunting. So my answer is that I am 99% sure he is OK and it is very normal behavior. Thanks for asking.

  8. Exciting to know about the owls in Cape Coral. i’m going to drive down there tomorrow (Tuesday). Any suggestions on where I might see the owls. Looked at the aerial photo and wow, lots of roads in Cape Coral.

    Keep up the great work.
    Thanks. Tom.

    • the Pelican Blvd ball fields are usually good. If you go to the Pelican baseball field on the west side of Pelican Blvd and 40th street, there is a row of burrows. One of them is usually active. Then drive around to the North side of the park and there is a tree with a burrow under it. They are all marked with pipes, you cant miss them.
      Then go across the street to the Pelican soccer filed. On the North side of the park, on the grassy area between the street and the parking lot, is another burrow that is usually active.
      There is also another active burrow in the empty lot next to CVS drug store on the corner of Cape Coral Parkway and Coronado Blvd.

  9. Daniel,
    This not typical of the Burrowing Owl. While you may occasionally see a Burrowing Owl in a tree, this is not their normal habitat. Most likely you are seeing a Screech Owl. They are about the same size as the Burrowing Owl and do indeed like nest boxes. Take a good look next time and take notice of the head. Burrowing Owls have no ear tufts while Screech Owls do.

  10. I don’t think it would be possible to collect owl pellets. They are quite small and would be hard to find. I would be happy to arrange for a speaker to come to your boy scout troop meeting to talk about the Burrowing Owls.
    Webmaster

    • Rebecca,
      The easiest way to attract an owl to a specific place is to install a started burrow. There are pictures and instructions here on the website. If you want some additional help, call Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife @ (239)980-2593

  11. Hello!

    Do burrowing owls use drainage pipes that run under driveways as nests? A few days ago, in front of the house directly across the street from us, there was a single owl standing at east end, at the top of the pipe. This morning, there are now two owls standing at the west end of the opening.

    • Frank, as far as we know they don’t use the culverts, but I wouldn’t rule it out. They often dig burrows in the strangest places. I would think they they are using it for protection, and I would bet there are a lot of juicy bugs in there. I have owls on my front lawn and they often fly into the culvert.

      • There was a new nesting area staked out in the field behind our neighbor’s house, and we thought that was where the owls were calling home. We see the 2 owls a lot through the day across the street though, either 1 or both standing at the top of the culvert. While coming home from a bike ride, I saw one owl standing on the top of the pipe, and I could see the other poking its head out from inside the pipe.

        It is pretty cool to have them so close. I’ve heard them outside my office window in the backyard in the early mornings, and they’ve used out plant stand outside in the front yard as a perch to survey the area.

  12. I’m coming to the area to photograph the owls, hopefully bringing food to chicks. I plan on being there the weekend of May 10-12, so hopefully it will be good. Are there any nests not marked with the “t”perches, PVC, and/or survey tape that would be better photography wise? Also, where would be the vest location to see and photograph monk parakeets? Thank you very much! Great site!

    • Marvin, May is an excellent time to view the owls as the chicks are out at many of the burrows. Burrowing Owls coloring help them blend into the environment very well so Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife members work very hard at marking all the burrows in town to protect them from danger. (All 2500+ burrows) If there is a burrow in town that is not marked with PVC pipes and perches, we don’t know about it or it is on private property. We no longer use survey tape. We have found that when the owls are flying into the burrows, especially if there is danger around, they could get entangled.

      The Burrowing Owls of Cape Coral do a fine job of feeding themselves and their chicks. Feeding them human food can be deadly to them. It is against FEDERAL LAW (Federal Migratory Bird Act) to harass these birds. The term harassment means disturbing the owls or the burrows. Examples of harassment include feeding the birds, and disturbing the birds or the burrow. Staying for extended time, close to the burrow is construed as harassment because the parents won’t leave the nest to feed the chicks. Baiting them with food is also illegal. Getting too close to the owls will result in them paying more attention to you and not their environment. Recently a Burrowing Owl was spotted in the Chicago area, far from its normal habitat. Photographers and birders flocked to the area to get a look at the owl, and repeatedly flushed the bird out to get a better look and that perfect picture. After a successful flush, a Cooper’s Hawk swooped down and carried the Burrowing Owl off for a great lunch. I would hope you would go a Google search on wildlife watching etiquette before your trip to Cape Coral.
      With that said,

      With that said, the best places to photograph the owls would be the Pelican ball field and the soccer field. These are located on either side of Pelican Blvd in the 40th blocks on both sides of the road. Just ride around the perimeter of the parks and you will see the sites marked. The ball field which is on the west side of the street is where the Monk Parakeets are located, up in the ball field lights. There are Burrowing Owls at Pelican Elementary School also off Pelican Blvd, further north. You can also see owls and parakeets at the BMX park on the corner of Skyline and Trafalger. The owls are located off Skyline at the entrance to the park. Look for the PVC pipes to locate their nests. Riding down the streets of Cape Coral, you will see the PVC pipes marking the burrows, they are all over the place.

    • James, August is one of the hottest months of the year here in Florida. The Burrowing Owls to not migrate, so they are here year round, but often spend the heat of the day under cover. Early morning or late evening are the best times for both humans and the owls. See the message to Marvin to locate the owls. Of course, between now and August the owls may or may not be at those locations.

  13. I’m planning a visit to the Ft. Myers area in the third week of March 2013. Reading the previous comments I now see that is not the best time to see Burrowing Owls. But I am wondering if the previous advice still applies in that time of year? That is near the Cape Coral Library. Any advice you can provide will be appreciated.

    • Tom,
      You can see the Burrowing Owls in Cape Coral all year long. Mid February is the official beginning of nesting season. Wee have not seen a lot of evidence of nesting as yet, but we are seen an increase in the number of pairs of owls. The owls don’t keep an exact schedule. Once they do lay the eggs, the female spends a lot of time in the burrow incubating them, and the male guards the nest. So March is not the best time to see owls, but you will see them. Chicks don’t usually show up until late April or early May —usually. Hope this helps.

      • Looks like I will be there are the same time as Tom. I will be working during the day, but I plan on going over daily around 5:30ish. From what I understand I will probably still see owls. However, it would be the males most guarding the nest. I’m looking forward to it!

    • Hi, We don’t have a map of the Burrowing Owl location because it is very difficult to keep current due to the movement of the owls. The Burrowing Owls in Cape Coral are here all year round, but tend to hide in summers to get out of the hot sun. The are out all day long and do their hunting at night. The best place to see them is the Cape Coral Library off Mohawk Parkway in SW Cape Coral. There are several nests on the street to the right of the library and behind the library. The best time to see the owls is January and February and April, May and June. Once nesting starts which officially is mid February, the female is in the burrow most of the time, so you only get to see the male guarding the nest. Once the chicks are born and out of the nest in late April, early May then you will see the whole family.

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