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Do not bury the burrowing owls, a wildlife group says

burrowing owls on the ground
Jessica Meszaros

The Florida burrowing owl is listed as threatened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Pasha Donaldson, vice president of the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife, does not know how well the city's 3,500 burrowing owls fared during Hurricane Ian.

But she does know of a way residents can help the animals that survived the storm remain alive.

“Please don’t put your trash on top of” their burrows, Donaldson said. That’s “that big thing for people dumping trash.”

The burrowing owl occupies not just self-dug burrows, but can make a home in the ends of a drainage culvert underneath driveways, underneath a porch, or where a post used to be. Donaldson said to trap the owls down in their homes for the days or weeks it takes for the piles of trash created by Hurricane Ian could be deadly.

The Florida burrowing owl is listed as State Threatened by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Donaldson and the other 300 members of the wildlife group have an extra-special reason for being about the owls beyond a general concern for animal welfare: Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife has spent $450,000 purchasing about four dozen residential plots and are nearly always looking to buy more.

Burrowing owls and gopher tortoises have been either discovered on, or been brought to, one of the lots where, now, nothing will ever be built, establishing a patchwork sanctuary for the animals throughout parts of the city.

Donaldson said the storm swept away many of the white PVC posts volunteers place in the ground to show where an owl mini-habitat has been created, usually on a residential lot the group bought before a home could be built and then they let the owls burrow away.

The 300-member group has been amassing the owl and tortoise-based sanctuary since 2002. The group focuses on burrowing owls and gopher tortoises because they both dig into the ground for protection and because most of the lots are easy-to-dig-in sandy spoil dredged up from the bay bottom when the city was created in the 1950s.

The group’s annual festival is becoming the stuff of legend, and next year’s is planned for February.

The 21st Annual Burrowing Owl Festival and Wildlife and Environmental Exposition is set for February 23, 2023, at Rotary Park. The group is asking the public to donate items the can be auctioned of to raise money for the non-profit, and a form to do so can be found here.

Environmental reporting for WGCU is funded in part by VoLo Foundation, a non-profit with a mission to accelerate change and global impact by supporting science-based climate solutions, enhancing education, and improving health. 

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Tom Bayles