CAPE CORAL, Fla. — Protecting the official bird of Cape Coral is a top priority for wildlife groups.
The burrowing owl has gone from being classified as a species of special concern to the threatened species list.
“It doesn’t take any kind of a small disaster to really wipe out a community of wildlife."
Pascha Donaldson is with the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife. Their mission: to preserve and enhance the habitats of protected wildlife species. She says wildlife, such as the burrowing owl, is being lost everyday by the thousands due to development.
“We are in rainy season so the ground is saturated, especially in the north part of the Cape," says Donaldson. "The owls are displaced and they’re flying around trying to find a safe place. This is what they go through every year- they survive. Some don’t survive, some do survive but that’s the way it is.”
According to Donaldson, the burrowing owl went from being classified as a species of special concern to the threatened species list in 2017. She says the owl count this year is about the same as last year, with a thousand pairs on the Cape. One residential street is just one of the latest to be classified as a nesting area. Only it sits on top of a development, where new homes are planned to be built. That’s where the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission come in.
“The agents are pretty much on top of it," said Donaldson. "They coordinate with the construction person when they go to scrape the land. 24 hours before they scrape is when they do the outtake and that way the owls will not come back. If you leave too much time, the owls will come right back and start digging and they have to go through the whole process again.”
According to the FWC, that particular area has been properly scoped to determine if any eggs or fledglings were present. None were found, and so the adult owls were safely flushed from their nests and the burrow filled. But not all burrows share the same outcome.
“Without the vacant spaces, without the land, without the lots and the other things necessary for the owls to eat or any wildlife to eat and our little wooded areas- we will become like the city of Miami and the only wildlife you’re going to see is dead dogs on the street and maybe a mockingbird,” Donaldson said.
The good news is there is a solution- the ‘Starter Burrow Program.’ Those with the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife are offering residents the opportunity to open their property to these threatened birds.
“How unique would that be, that you could just drive through a city and have your wildlife right in your front door?" says Donaldson. "As you know, it’s a tourist attraction and it’s economically good for the Cape. People from all over the world come just to photograph our little owls so they spend money, they stay at the hotels, they eat at the restaurants. Economically it’s a smart thing for Cape Coral to do.”