Cape Coral Burrowing Owls

 

I get a lot of questions about the Burrowing Owls that I thought I would answer here. If you have a question, send it off to capeowls@gmail.com, and I will do my best to answer your question.

How big are the owls?

Adult Burrowing Owls are about the size of an American Robin.  They stand approximately 10 inches high (25 cm) and weigh 6 ounces, about the size of a McDonalds Quarter Pounder.(170g)  They have quite a large wingspan at 21 inches (53 cm).

Can Burrowing Owls turn their heads completely around?

No! A Burrowing Owl can only turn their head 270° as shown in the blue area in the graphic below.  The eyes of the Burrowing Owls have become so specialized and large that they do not move in their sockets. The owl must turn its head to view an object.

     Burrowing Owl Head Rotation

 

Do Burrowing Owls migrate? 

The western species of the Burrowing Owl do migrate, but the owls here in Cape Coral do not.  They are quite happy staying here all year round.  During the hot summers, they are known to hang out in the coolness of the mangrove trees, but they are not very far from "home".  Several years ago, biologist Tom Allen places radio tracking devices on 50 of the Cape Coral Burrowing Owls to see just where they went.  One managed to find its way to Marco Island, a few went to Fort Myers, Fl and one traveled to the north section of Cape Coral. the rest stayed near their burrows.

How many young to they have?

On average they have 4-5 chicks once a year.  I have had as many as 7 on my property, and as few as 2.  The western species tend to have a few more chicks than the Florida ones.   Predation and automobiles take a heavy toll on the chicks, and survival rates can be low.

Why haven't I ever heard of a Burrowing Owl before? 

If you are from the Northeast, chances are you haven't heard of a Burrowing Owl. They are found west of the Mississippi and in the lower portions of Georgia and Florida.  There is even a population of them in Aruba.

How can you tell the male from the female?

It is very difficult to tell them apart.  Here in Florida, the males tend to be a little lighter in color and the females darker in color.  This is because the male spends more time outside the burrow searching for food, while the female spends more time in the burrow.  The Florida sun tends to bleach out the males feathers, making them lighter in color.  This is not a very reliable way to tell them apart unless they are side-by-side.

What do they eat?

Burrowing Owls love mice.  It has been reported that a family of Burrowing Owls can eat up to 1500 mice per year.  They also like small snakes, frogs, roaches and other bugs and have been known to  kill an occasional bird.  Unless you are willing to provide the owls with these menu items, please don't try to feed them.

I hear a Burrowing Owl will attack you.

If a Burrowing Owl is threatened, it will fly to the burrow for protection.  Since the burrow is on the ground, if you are between the owl and the burrow, the owl will appear to be swooping down on you. There has never been a reported attack by a Burrowing Owl on a human in the City of Cape Coral. It is not to say they get very testy if you get too close to the burrow.  Especially if there are eggs or young present.

There is a Burrowing Owl sitting outside my front door and it has been there all day and not moved.  Is it sick?

During the daylight hours, Burrowing Owls are quite content to just sit by the burrow or in a cool shady spot for hours on end.  I have observed an owl on my lawn sitting in front of the burrow for 12 hours without moving.  Come night time and the owl took off to go hunting.

Do Burrowing Owls dig their own burrows?

Yes, here in Florida they do. Our soft sandy soil makes it easy for the owls to dig a burrow, which can be up to 10 feet long and 1-3 feet deep.  Once homeowners install our Florida "grass" on the lawn, the owls can no longer dig a burrow. The grass we have here in Florida is very course and nearly impossible to dig through. Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife teaches residents how to put "starter burrows" on their properties to encourage the owls to nest.  This involves digging a small section of grass out of the lawn to create a disturbed area which may attract the owls. For more information on starter burrows, read the Starter Burrows article on this website.

What's with all the crosses in Cape Coral????

When visitors first come to Cape Coral, they are puzzled by all the crosses on empty lots and even front yards.  We are often asked if they mark traffic fatalities.  One woman even commented that Cape Coralites must be terrible drivers.  We have to laugh because these crosses mark the many Burrowing Owl burrows that we have in town.  Burrowing Owls like to be elevated so they can see predators coming.  The City started installing the "T" perches when they started marking the burrows to make them visible to the large lot mowers that keep our weeds at bay.   The owls seem to love them and can often be seen perching on them. 

 Burrowing Owl On Perch