By Sandy Townsend
Have you seen owls that live on the ground instead of trees? If so, Tampa Audubon Society wants to know.
Tampa Audubon is looking for burrowing owls for Project Perch. The new program’s goals are to protect the county’s existing population and support new owls with artificial burrows and through public education.
Unlike most owls, burrowing owls live in burrows in the ground. The small owls have long legs and short tails and spend most of their time on the ground or on low perches.
They live in open habitats with few trees and low vegetation, such as pastures and golf courses.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has categorized the Florida burrowing owl as a threatened species.
“In the 1980s, Hillsborough County recorded more burrowing owls than any other county in the nation during its Christmas Bird Count,” said Valrico resident Sandy Reed, who chairs Project Perch. “During the 2018 Christmas Bird Count, we found none.”
Project Perch was first developed by the South Florida Audubon Society to protect owls there.
“Artificial burrows have been used successfully in South Florida to reinforce existing colonies for 20 years,” said Chris Reiss, a volunteer with Project Perch. Reiss, who was active in South Florida’s Audubon’s Project Perch, recently moved to Hillsborough County and is working closely with the program here.
“We hope to repeat their success in this county,” Reed said. “It’s tragic that our burrowing owl population has nearly disappeared. We need to make room for wildlife.”
The decrease is attributed to many factors, primarily the continued loss of habitat due to development. Suitable habitats that remain often aren’t maintained properly or are threatened by human use and domesticated animals.
“We hope to find suitable habitats on county-owned environmental land for installation of artificial burrows to support the population,” Reed said.
“Even though much of their habitat is lost, there are still plenty of things residents can do to protect burrowing owls and all birds,” Reed said. “They can keep dogs on leashes and keep cats indoors.
They can eliminate the use of pesticides and reduce the use of fertilizers, which can contaminate the environment and hurt all living things.”
If you see a burrowing owl, please call/text the burrowing owl hotline at 365-7944 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Leave your name, the date and the location. GPS locations are appreciated.