FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:
Q: I cannot see any owls. Where are they?
A: Burrowing Owls are diurnal and nocturnal, meaning they are active during the day and night. However, they do spend quite a bit of time in their burrow. Mostly the male stands guard at the entrance and the female spends more time below. But sometimes they will both be in the burrow, especially when disturbed. Wait and watch or check back often and you'll be sure to see them!
Q: What is that yellow post in the foreground?
A: The yellow post is actually a T-shaped perch that the owls can use for increased elevation to survey their surroundings.
Q: What is the best time to see them?
A: Burrowing Owls are most active at dawn and dusk so mornings and late afternoons are the best time to view them. But they will appear at any time of the day so keep watching!
Q: Why is there a fence around the owls and why are they so close to the road?
A: The fence protects the owls from disturbance and their burrow is in an irrigation swale on the school property. They need to nest in areas above the flood level and the area closest to the road is most suitable for them. Sometimes you might see people walking past. The owls are accustomed to the presence of people.
Q: When do they breed?
A: Typically burrowing Owls breed in the winter from January to March but these owls have been known to breed throughout the year and raise multiple broods.
ABOUT BURROWING OWLS
The burrowing owl is a pint-sized bird that lives in open, treeless areas.
The burrowing owl spends most of its time on the ground, where its sandy brown
plumage provides camouflage from potential predators. One of Florida's smallest
owls, it averages nine inches in height with a wingspan of 21 inches. The
burrowing owl lacks the ear tufts of the more familiar woodland owls. Bright
yellow eyes and a white chin accent the face. Unusually long legs provide
additional height for a better view from its typical ground-level perch.
The Florida burrowing owl occurs throughout the state although its
distribution is considered local and spotty. The presence of burrowing owls is
primarily dependent upon habitat. Humans have created new habitat for burrowing
owls by clearing forests and draining wetlands. Burrowing owls inhabit open
native prairies and cleared areas that offer short groundcover including
pastures, agricultural fields, golf courses, airports, and vacant lots in
residential areas. Historically, the burrowing owl occupied the prairies of
central Florida. Recently, these populations have decreased because of
disappearing habitat while populations in south Florida coastal areas have
increased due to modification of habitat by humans.
Burrowing owls live as single breeding pairs or in loose colonies
consisting of two or more families. Unlike most owls, burrowing owls are active
during both day and night. During the day, they are usually seen standing erect
at the mouth of the burrow or on a nearby post. When disturbed, the owl bobs in
agitation and utters a chattering or clucking call. In flight, burrowing owls
typically undulate as if they are flying an invisible obstacle course. They also
can hover in midair, a technique effective for capturing food.
Burrowing owls use burrows year-round; for roosting during the winter and
for raising young during the breeding season (Feb - July). Florida's owls
typically dig their own burrows but will use gopher tortoise or armadillo
burrows. Burrows extend 4 to 8 feet underground and are lined with materials
such as grass clippings, feathers, paper, and manure.
Burrowing owls mainly eat insects, especially grasshoppers and beetles.
They can be of special benefit in urban settings since they also consume roaches
and mole crickets. Other important foods are small lizards, frogs, snakes,
birds, and rodents.
Eggs are primarily laid in March but nesting can occur from October through
May. The female lays six to eight eggs over a one-week period. She will incubate
the eggs for 21 to 28 days.
At hatching, the young owls are covered with white downy feathers and have
their eyes closed. They emerge from the burrow when they are 2 weeks old. At 4
weeks, they are learning to fly but cannot fly well until 6 weeks old. They
remain with their parents until they are 12 weeks old.
The Florida burrowing owl is classified as a "species of special concern"
by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This means burrows,
owls, and their eggs are protected from harassment and/or disturbance by state
law. Burrowing owls are also protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty
Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation commission
Burrowing Owls History in Florida
Broward County has one of the highest densities of Burrowing Owls in Florida and it also has a very high human population density. Not surprisingly, these factors bring Burrowing Owls into close contact with humans across the county. The Florida sub-species of Burrowing Owl is now classified as a threatened species in Florida and it is one of the rarest sub-species of Burrowing Owls. Loss of habitat due to development, disturbance at burrows and negative interactions with humans are some of the threats facing this charismatic species.
A staggering 55 Broward County Public schools have Burrowing Owls on their properties. Through various education initiatives and with help from Project Perch many of the schools now protect their owls by providing suitable habitat and burrows. The owls return the favor by providing the students and teachers with a rare glimpse into the natural history of these fascinating birds.
Burrowing Owls have been present at our school camera location since at least 1984. For most of this time the school had 1 to 2 pairs of owls nesting on athletic fields. At one point they tried to burrow in the sand for the long jump pit. For a long time they were in an area between the classrooms. The pair in this area did very well and over time they became year round residents that were known to produce more than one brood in a year. During occasional cold weather they would perch on top of a light box under the overhang of one of the classroom buildings. A school expansion project was started that would use the space where the owls had burrowed and a permit to remove the burrow was applied for by the school district.
The teachers and students were very interested in relocating the owls to a safer place and began a project that would create new “artificial burrows” for the owls. Artificial burrows take the permit mitigation process further by not just clearing the grass but actually digging a starter burrow for the owls and installing a 3 foot tunnel made out of modified 6” PVC pipe. Within a week of being installed the owls were at one of the burrows! Since the artificial burrows have been installed owls have not nested on the athletic fields or anywhere else on school grounds except where the artificial burrows are located. Since the installation of artificial burrows the colony has grown supporting up to 3 pairs of owls, all breeding at once! The owls from the old burrow area near the classrooms continue to raise multiple broods and 2 other pairs have moved in. The owls have dug a new natural burrow near one of the artificial burrows. The colony has numbered 17 at one point and fledged as many as 9 owlets during the normal breeding season.
The owl couple on the live camera feed is the youngest breeding pair in the colony and are a little over a year old. Although you cannot see it they are using one of the artificial burrows. They have recently lost the last of their juvenile fluff and it looks like they may be getting down to the serious business of raising a family! Several weeks ago, this pair was seen mating and they have spent more time feeding and spending most of their time close to home. The male seems to be nervously guarding the burrow like an expectant father. Is the female feeding heavily to lay eggs or are there owlets down there that they are already busy feeding? Join us as we track their progress!
What You Can Do To Help
Install T-perches near owl burrows. Perches provide burrowing owls with an elevated view of the nest area, and also make the burrows more visible to mowing machine operators. Many burrows collapse each year when mower tires pass near the burrow entrance. If you put up perches, be sure that you keep the grass and weeds trimmed low around the burrow to give the owls the unobstructed view that they need to avoid predators.
Restrict use of pesticides. Because burrowing owls feed on insects that are considered pests around homes, they are exposed to the insecticides you use. Pesticides decrease and possibly contaminate food available to owls. Explore options other than using pesticides, but if you continue to use them, please do so with caution.
Attracting owls to your lawn. Burrowing owls may dig burrows in sodded yards if vacant lots are scarce. To attract a pair, remove a 1-2 foot circular plug of sod from the lawn. This exposes the sandy soil needed by the owls for burrowing. You might also start the burrow and place a pile of loose sand near the mouth.
Placing a T-perch near the burrow can help draw it to a pair's attention.
Report malicious destruction or harassment of burrowing owls or their nests.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission