Volunteers from the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife show us how to build a nest for burrowing owls in Cape Coral.
Cape Coral’s official city bird, the burrowing owl, will take center stage at Rotary Park on Feb. 29.
The 18th annual Burrowing Owl Festival Wildlife and Environmental Exposition starts at 10 a.m. that Saturday and will feature an assortment of vendors and exhibits. Organizers with Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife expanded the event this year to include fun and educational presentations on Florida wildlife, water quality and fishing experts.
“The revision opens a whole new vision of what we want people to get out of the festival,” said Pascha Donaldson, vice president of CCFW. “It’s an education about the environment and also the wildlife we are protecting on the protected species list and what that means for all of us.”
Heading up the newly transformed festival is CCFW’s event project manager Paul Bonasia. He joined the organization four years ago shortly after he moved to the Cape.
“It’s fun for me to do,” he said. “Last year they needed help organizing parking, so I stepped in and this year I am actually organizing the event.”
Under Bonasia’s vision, speaking events have expanded and local school kids are presenting environment-focused projects.
“I reached out to Cape Coral public schools to see if there were students doing projects related to wildlife and the environment and if they want to showcase those to the public,” he said. “I just about got six (students) and I’m very pleased they decided they would attend the festival.”
A new face will also greet crowds streaming into the fest.
Athene, the larger-than-life burrowing owl mascot of the event, is a new addition thanks to Bonasia. The name, which rhymes with green, comes from the burrowing owl’s scientific name — Athene cunicularia.
This year, the festival will feature three outdoor tents, one with a stage and room for 60 chairs. Here, experts will give 20-minute presentations on topics ranging from coyotes to clean water.
“It’s been fun to do,” Bonasia said. “I’ve gotten a lot of support from the board of directors and I’d like to continue to build on some of the things we have done and continue to attract a crowd to the event.”
Donaldson, who joined CCFW in 2006, hopes the festival will increase awareness of the burrowing owls.
“We want to not have them threatened, we want their numbers to increase,” she said. “We encourage people to do starter burrows in their front yards and in empty lots.”
If anyone is unsure how to create a starter burrow for the owls, CCFW will come out to their property and dig one for free.
Burrowing owls are listed as a threatened species with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This means any “taking, possessing or selling burrowing owls, their nests (i.e., burrows), or eggs” requires a permit from the agency.
One Cape Coral resident is petitioning against such a permit filed by Johnson Engineering. The permit asks the FWC for authorization to “non-lethally ‘harass’ owls” to remove them from the area within Bernice Braden Park and to fill in inactive burrows. The park is used for Fourth of July celebrations.
“You don’t have to destroy the burrow at all. All you have to do is get a metal guard railing and put it around the nest during the event,” Chris Specht told the News-Press earlier in February.
If you plan on attending
When: Saturday, Feb. 29 from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Where: Rotary Park, 5505 Rose Garden Road, Cape Coral, FL 33914
Cost: A requested donation of $5, free for children 12 and under
►They stand 8 to 11 inches tall on a pair of spindly legs and have a wingspan of about 20-24 inches.
►The pint-sized raptors can fly, but they don’t live in trees. Instead, they spend most of their time underground.
►Burrows have a saucer-sized entrance and a tunnel leading to a nesting cavity as deep as 8 feet underground.
►Burrowing owls mate for life and they’ll stay in the same nest if the conditions remain unchanged.
►Females can lay up to eight eggs within one week. About 28 days later, newborn owls emerge sporting white feathers.
Karl Schneider is an environment reporter. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @karlstartswithk, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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