As a youngster growing up in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania, seeing “critters” in the backyard such as rabbits, squirrels and occasionally a deer was commonplace. It just seemed to me that almost everyone had critters of some sort in their backyard.
Having traveled many places in the world and observing different animals, I developed an appreciation for the diversity of wildlife on every continent. Few animals are the same around the world. But they certainly are interesting. Everywhere there are new critters to discover and enjoy. This story is about discovering the Cape Coral Burrowing Owl.
Recently, I began to look around my new neighborhood in Cape Coral, Florida. A high school classmate tipped me off that I should seek out the Cape Coral Burrowing Owl. And I found many of their nesting sites within several steps from my apartment’s front door.
Wild things are plentiful in this area. And they are also relatively easy to find. Within a few minutes drive, birds dive bomb for fish, Manatees swim in canals and Dolphins play in inlets. I have written about turtle races at Bert’s Bar in Matlacha and soon I plan to visit the Everglades to see Gators, Pythons, and exotic birds. Maybe I will get a glimpse of an Armadillo or a Coyote too!
Growing up in Pennsylvania, I saw large numbers of groundhogs burrowing in farm fence rows. Traveling through Texas I have seen many prairie dogs living along with humanity and eyeing passers by while standing on their hind legs by their burrows. But these burrowing owls in Cape Coral are cute and simply unique.
Some wildlife like the Coqui tree frog in Puerto Rico is not easily found. However, when I explored the first burrowing owl nesting area on my block, there was a tiny owl staring back at me with those large, bright, lemon yellow eyes! Then the second burrow and the third and… all had owls in them. Only as big as a can of Dr. Pepper, they had Linda Blair, Exorcist-like swivel heads that turned so they could watch my every move.
These owls dig their own burrows and seem to guard and decorate them. They are silent except when they feel threatened. One made a noise and strutted a few owl paces toward me and I instinctively stepped back. I didn’t want an encounter with a threatened species like that!
Other than that one, these birds are calm around humans. Most of the nests are in open lots or along highways. But there are also human homes that have owl nesting burrows in their yards.
The burrowing owl is the official Cape Coral bird. In February the city sponsors a festival in their honor.
Books have been written about them and people from all over visit the Cape to view them. Cape Coral is the home of the largest population of burrowing owls.
The owls mate for life and maintain their underground home year round. It is cool inside the 8 to 10 foot burrows where they escape the torturous Summer heat. They are small birds of prey and feed on mice, frogs and insects. Larger birds of prey like to eat them, especially the chicks
It is fun to walk up to them and maintain a safe distance. The nesting areas are marked with PVC tubes placed in the ground. Humans also place a perch in each nesting area and an advisory warning is posted that the owls are an endangered species.
So, the big deal is that these cute, lovable tiny critters in Cape Coral, Florida are a special treat. Unfortunately, I will miss seeing the chicks emerging from the burrows when I return to North Carolina in the Spring.