South Florida Audubon Society

Volunteers Help Owls in Pompano Beach
-by Allison Zack

photo credit: Allison Zack

What can you do with top soil, play sand, 8 pieces of sod and 4 feet of PVC pipe? You can give a pair of burrowing owls a new home.  That's what the Pompano Beach Public Works crew and a team of South Florida Audubon Society volunteers did on February 19th.

My name is Allison Zack and I'm a Florida Master Naturalist and South Florida Audubon Society volunteer with Project Perch.  On February 19th I had the privilege of working with Marlason Permenter and the City of Pompano Beach Grounds Maintenance crew when we restored 2 burrows for burrowing owls in Hunter's Manor Park in Pompano. 

Kellly Heffernan, Director of Audubon's Project Perch, received a call from Jeff Smith who lives near Hunter's Manor Preserve in Pompano Beach.  For the past 10 years he has been watching over a pair of burrowing owls whose burrow is right in the center of the park. The owls have produced so many offspring -- 6 per year over the past 3 years alone -- that the parents excavated a second burrow for their ever-growing family.  Recently Jeff noticed that both burrows had collapsed, in part due to the weight of mowers and lots of soccer games in the park.
February 15 is the official start of nesting season for burrowing owls, so Jeff contacted Kelly to see if there was a way to help the owls raise another successful family this year. Kelly mobilized a team of experienced Audubon volunteers and a team from Pompano Beach Public Works led by Marlason Permenter who brought sand, sod, topsoil and tools to dig the burrow. Audubon volunteers supplied the PVC pipe burrows with their nesting chambers, and everyone pitched in to install the 2 new burrows. By partnering and repairing the burrows, Pompano Beach and Audubon have helped to ensure the owls' future success. 

Volunteers install burrows at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church

photo credit: Allison Zack

It Takes a Team to Save Burrowing Owls
SFAS is very excited to share the planting of our 100th artificial burrow at Blessed Sacrament Church that took place on Saturday, December 12. We trust Father Bob will bless them all and the owls will find the field again and do well

Team work from Ashley Taylor, South Region Volunteer Coordinator with the Florida Fish  and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Kelly Heffernan, Director of Project Perch, South Florida Audubon Society, Father Robert F. Tywoniak ( Father Bob) of Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church, and Charles Livio, National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward, resulted in the successful installation of 12 burrowing owl underground homes and perches on Saturday, December 12, 2015.  

Kelly Heffernan, Director of Project Perch for SFAS states, "We used to struggle to get and fund owl projects but times have really changed.  Blessed Sacrament Church found us.  They wanted to help restore owls to their field and funded the project without hesitation.  The church is already a safe haven to many people but now will also protect the owls.  We welcome these burrows right at the start of nesting season when owls  need them the most.  The owls welcome burrows that are so far east, in Oakland Park, where they have so little habitat left." The burrowing owl is a species of special concern.
In addition to the burrows, wildflower seeds have been planted in specially identified areas on the property  to attract butterflies, bees and other pollinators.  The burrowing owl homes were made in advance by Project Perch volunteers, with donations from Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church and some City of Oakland Park employees.  We thank them for being so supportive and personally donating their time and funds to see the project completed.  Sixteen volunteers provided sweat equity to dig in the ground and install the 12 burrowing owl homes and perches.  Charles Livio along with several others will be monitoring the site to see when the owls are setting up residence.

Sand and Spurs Project demonstrates Teamwork
-by Allison Zack

You might think that horses and burrowing owls would make strange neighbors, but at Sand and Spurs Equestrian Ranch, 50 horses and 5 owls live side by side in an idyllic sandy setting not far from the Pompano Beach Airport.

Michelle Miller, Ranch Manager, alerted Kelly Heffernan, Director of SFAS Project Perch, that there were 5 owls in 2 burrows not far from the corrals where the horses are exercised. Kelly mobilized her network of owl guardians to investigate the situation and determine whether the safety of the owls - and the horses - was compromised by their proximity to each other.

The following week a team of owl guardians met with Michelle to check out the owls. Two burrows were active, and it appeared that one adult pair was super-protective of their nest and they might be incubating some eggs. We saw lots of hissing and bobbing and defensive behavior. The other 3 owls, probably last year's brood, stood guard at the second burrow, just 10 feet away. 

The SFAS owl guardians roped off the area and installed 2 signs, one alerting vehicles on the adjacent road, and one facing the area where horses are exercised. The team also added 2 perches to help owls with "surveillance duty" - watching for predators, like hawks.

photo credit: Allison Zack

The next week SFAS installed 2 artificial burrows close to the existing ones. Other burrowing owls are known to be in the area, and if the nearby owls have a new family this year, their babies will need a new home, too. This is a perfect place for a colony. 
Volunteers from Pompano Beach Maintenance and Grounds Crew, and Michelle Miller and Tom Curran of Sand and Spurs joined with the SFAS team to dig trenches in the sand. Together volunteers installed the new PVC burrows with their attached brood chambers, two of many artificial burrows assembled by SFAS Grant Campbell. Finally the team roped off the area, added signs, and placed white sugar sand at the burrow entrances as a 'welcome mat' for new owls. When burrowing owls see white sand, they know it is a good site for digging a burrow and they don't hesitate to explore. 

The Sand and Spurs burrowing owl project was a model collaboration between SFAS, the City of Pompano Beach and Sand and Spurs. Everyone who participated was enthused, motivated and cooperative - the perfect combination for success for both the owls and their horse neighbors.