Hillsborough County ELAPP Burrowing Owl Banding

Flatwoods Consulting Group Inc. (Flatwoods) is assisting Hillsborough County with monitoring and evaluating the needs of a Florida Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia floridana) population on Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP) lands. Flatwoods staff is aiding Hillsborough County in monitoring this population and providing habitat restoration recommendations to help the population grow. The Florida Burrowing Owl is a small owl with long legs that is typically observed on the ground. Each pair typically digs two burrows. Their native habitat is dry prairie that at once time covered much of central Florida. However, today very little of that habitat is still extant and Florida Burrowing Owls are attracted to land that resembles the low growing, open space of these prairies, which includes cattle pastures, airports, golf courses, and vacant residential lots.
 
The Florida Burrowing Owl was uplisted from Species of Special Concern to Threatened by Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) as of January 2017. As a result, FWC has implemented a new permitting process for Florida Burrowing Owls that occur on lands slated for development, as well as developed a new management plan. For the Florida Burrowing Owl, the goal of uplisting is to improve its status so that it ultimately can be removed from the imperiled species list. This project aims to answer some questions outlined in the FWC’s Species Action Plan for the Florida Burrowing Owl that are necessary to aid in the recovery of this species.
 
Flatwoods is collecting data to better understand the population dynamics of this small group of owls. How long do these owls live and how are their burrows used seasonally? How far do they move if their burrow is collapsed? How many young do the owls produce? Are owls coming to our study site from outside populations? These questions require Flatwoods staff to band the owls so that individuals can be identified. With proper permits from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the FWC, owls are captured using methods approved by the U.S. Geological Survey Bird Banding Laboratory and FWC. After capture, each adult is given a uniquely numbered orange band. The burrowing owls are surveyed every other month to evaluate site fidelity and fecundity of specific pairs. At the end of each breeding season, in May and June, Flatwoods staff bands any young produced by the established burrowing owl pairs. Flatwoods is also evaluating the relationship between the burrowing owls and cattle that are routinely used as a management tool to reduce vegetation height and maintain a suitable habitat for burrowing owls.