At 100 square miles, Cape Coral, Florida is the second largest city, land wise, in the State of Florida with Jacksonville the only city that is larger. Cape Coral also has the distinction of having the largest population of the Florida species of the Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia floridana) in the State, with an estimated 1000 nesting pair.
At only 5-8.5 ounces and 7.5-11 inches tall, the Burrowing Owl is one of the smallest of all the owls, and of the 171 species of owls worldwide, the only owl that lives underground. Unlike the Western species of the Burrowing Owl (athene cunicularia hypugaea) that lives in abandoned prairie dog burrows, here in Florida our Burrowing Owls dig their own burrows. Cape Coral has upwards of 2500 burrows within the City limits, but not all of them are actively being used by owls.
Photographers and birders alike come from all over the world to see our Burrowing Owls, and everyone is amazed at how easy it is to see and photograph these beautiful little birds. This doesn’t come without a price. Over the years, one of the main locations to see the Burrowing Owls is the Cape Coral Library. There were multiple burrows located on the streets surrounding the library, all of them very active. Today, only one burrow is still active and it is thought that there was just too much human activity for the owls, and they moved on. While the owls are quite tolerant of humans, getting too close to them too often will cause them to abandon a burrow and move on to a quieter location.
While some of the Western Burrowing Owls migrate, the Burrowing Owls here in Cape Coral do not migrate. They are here year round, but often hide in the summer to avoid the hot summer sun. The best time to see the owls is from January through June, and the best time to see the chicks is late April through June.
Rules of Engagement if you come to see our owls
- Download a map of suggested sites to search for them yourself
- Call Rotary Park Environment Center to sign up for the guided bus tour to see the Burrowing Owls and other wildlife of Cape Coral.
- Keep your distance from the Burrowing Owls. Every known burrow in the City that is located off residential properties has been marked with PVC pipes. Burrowing Owl burrows can be 10 feet long, so the chamber where the owls live can extend OUTSIDE the marked area. Approaching an owl closer than 20 feet is NOT recommended, and staying for long periods of time is also not recommended. While the owls may seem unaffected by your presence, it is disruptive to their day to day activity, and may prevent them from hunting for food, especially when there are chicks present.
- The unique thing about the owls is that unlike other owls, they are out during the day. They can easily be observed sitting in front of the burrow or on the perches any time during the day. During nesting season which runs from February through July, the male stands guard over the burrow for hours at a time, while the female is in the burrow with the eggs or young chicks. Once the chicks are about 10 days old, they will start to emerge from the burrow and you will see more of the female outside the burrow.
- For photographers, the first or last light of the day is best as the harsh Florida sun does not lend itself to great photo shots. For birders, the hot sun during mid-day is also the least desirable time to see the owls.
- Do not feed the owls! Their diet consists of mice, roaches, small snakes, anoles and frogs, and not crackers, peanuts, granola bars or McDonald’s French fries.