Florida Fish & Wildlife officers are investigating two incidents of burrowing owl nests being disturbed on Marco Island. One of the burrows, in a vacant lot at the corner of Century Drive and Kendall Drive, was filed with rocks. Another on Jamaica Road was filled with dirt.
"It's really concerning that somebody would try to harm these birds," said Allison Smith, a biologist who works with the Audubon Society's Owl Prowl.
An FWC officer removed 14 fist-sized rocks from burrow on Century Drive Wednesday. Smith then used a special camera to try to se if any eggs were damaged.
"Their burrow curves really sharply at the end, so I wasn't able to see the nest chamber," Smith said. "So we didn't confirm if there were eggs or not."
When she and volunteer Karol Tenace went back to the burrow Thursday to check on it, an owl hissed back at them from the burrow's opening.
"After all that happened and it got stuffed up with rocks, she came back," Tenace said. "So that's a good sign."
"The hissing when you approach means that they're still defending their burrow, so there's likely still viable eggs underground if they have a nest," Smith said.
The owls at the Jamaica Road burrow, which had been filled with dirt, were able to dig themselves out.
Smith said that there are about 450 burrowing owls on Marco Island, at over 200 burrowing sites. FWC classifies them as a threatened species.
Tampering with their burrows is violation of Marco Island city ordinance. Anyone who sees someone disturbing them is asked to call 1-888-404-3922.