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Burrowing Owl Population May Be Declining In Cape Coral

Jessica Meszaros


Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife is pressing for a city ordinance to protect Burrowing Owls. It doesn’t think the current state laws are strong enough. The potential city ordinance could take between six months and a year to accomplish.

Pascha Donaldson checked up on one of the 3,000 owl burrows she regularly visits in Cape Coral. This burrow was on the front lawn of a foreclosed home in the southwest part of the Cape.

"We call them our little fluff balls," said Donaldson. 

Six baby owls stared curiously at us from a heap of dirt just outside of their small burrow. The parents were not much larger than their offspring—they could fit in the palm of your hand.

"This year, I think we're definitely decreasing and I have to think it's all due to development.," said Donaldson. 

She said the population was steady a few years ago.

"But now that the economy has picked up in the last two years, we're losing the habitat," she said.

This is purely based on observation from local wildlife watchers. There hasn’t been a population survey of the owls here since 1999.

Donaldson said these owls burrow in empty lots around the Cape.

"A lot of what we're seeing is that the lots aren't there," she said. "There’s now houses on ‘em or construction of some sort."

The owls are listed as a "species of special concern" in Florida. Tampering with a burrow is a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail. 

But Donaldson wants local protection so that if a violation is made, the police can write a ticket. It’s really hard to prove when a burrow has been disturbed or removed altogether.

"The way the system works right now, it is difficult to do that," said Vince Cautero, Cape Coral’s community development director.

Cautero said that not every burrowing owl sight has an inspection upfront because there’s no ordinance that requires it.

The law only asks property owners to sign an affidavit stating they’ll comply with the state rules, like building around a burrow.

"The Friends of the Wildlife, they're asking us to consider using volunteers to be able to go out and continue to stake out property and also inspect properties," Cautero said. 

He’s currently working on a report for the city manager. The next step is presenting the issue to the city council. It will vote and ultimately have the last say.

But Cautero is confident the ordinance will go through within the next year.

"I think it's possible," he said. 

For now, Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife want locals to adopt a burrow. They’ll help you legally move it in a way that won’t harm the owls.

"If you wish to have a starter burrow in your front yard and you'd like your own little burrowing owl, we'd be glad to get that going," said Donaldson. 

For more information, click here to view the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife website, or call the Friends at (239) 980-2593. 

Jessica Meszaros is a reporter and host of Morning Edition at WUSF Public Media, and former reporter and host of All Things Considered for WGCU News.
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