Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Feathered Underground

If you're driving through the city of Cape Coral for the first time, there are two questions that might peck away at the back of your brain. Why are there fields filled with PVC pipes and perches and why am I driving through Cape Coral.

The town is the 2nd largest in area in the state at 115 square miles and has nearly 32 trees. The City was founded in 1965 on the western side of the Caloosahatchee River and across from Fort Myers. It has no history worth mentioning, or at least none that I could find on Wikipedia in the last 5 minutes, but essentially the relatively barren landscape was scraped, hundreds of miles of channels were created (many leading to nowhere) and the people began to flock to the Mecca of flat land. Germans predominately settled the town as property was sold cheaply in Europe during the 70's and the proximity to the ocean and level terrain must have undoubtedly reminded them of their homeland.
It's one of the fastest growing cities in the country and for the life of me I have no idea why. Which brings me back to my questions. Why PVC and perches? Of all of the inhabitants of the city, the most notable and beloved are the Burrowing Owls. The owls (Athene cunicularia) are found in Florida and throughout the western US and Canada.

map from Shaw Creek Bird Supply

They use the burrows of other animals out west, but here in Florida they do the excavating themselves. They are a "Species of Special Concern" here which is the scientific equivalent of a "whatever". But here in Cape Coral, the community embraces them. They truly adore them and sometimes they run them over with their cars. It happens. One nest I checked on was caved in with tire marks directly over the top of it.

I headed out to check out how many I could find and was lucky enough to find 14 in one evening. They're small, long-legged and have bright yellow eyes that look like creamed corn. Since they prefer open grasslands, the problem is quite obvious. Fastest growing city in Florida....birds that like open land. So a drive around town is an interesting experience as many of the underground burrows are marked with PVC pipes and perches are placed in the center so the birds have a place to lookout.

The owls are relatively comfortable living around humans, but they get testy from time to time if you approach too close and will bob their heads up and down, signaling that they are peeved. They also mimic the sound of a rattlesnake to deter predators.

In some places they have exacted revenge for the lands they have lost. I love this spot. The owls have burrowed into the soft sands of a horseshoe pit. The town was nice enough to rope it off. No doubt some knucklehead would have used the PVC perch to score a ringer.
They get most agitated in March and April when nesting season occurs. Although they lay anywhere from 8-12 eggs, usually only 4-5 leave the nest.

Although they are the darlings of the city, it's not all unicorns and rainbows for the owls. While birds, nests and eggs are protected, land continues to sell at a fast pace and each year we lose more and more open space for North America's only burrowing owl. My sister, Mandy, has suggested I offer action steps for every environmental crisis I bring up.
Action Step: Don't buy empty lots in Cape Coral!


  1. Rainbow at the end of the story -- really nice touch. May they find their wee pots of gold...

  2. Short paragraphs, lots of pictures & bad punctuation. Easy college reading!
    Thanks for a fun blog. This must be why you're "the funny one"
    L'il sister

  3. No, no, no! Your Action Step should be the complete opposite of what you suggest. All of us should buy undeveloped Cape Coral lots and leave them as such. The irony for those of us in the environmental field is that most of us are too poor to afford this form of conservation. Which leads us to Option #2: pull up all survey markers for new development.

  4. If they found the gold they would just spend it on diamond studded perches - Bird Bling.

    Ang congratulations to Lil Sister who has gone over a month now without a single rejected comment. She still leads Wayne 9-7 in rejected comments.

  5. Win-up bird has a good point - but I should also point out that the people that love the birdsmay not consdier themseleves "environmentalists". Everyone should be environmentalists. In the most plain context it means you wish to take care of the environment you live in. So in this case, as a community, we should buy up green space to protect from development. You don't have to be a tree-hugger to protect the land. Well...maybe a bird hugger.