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About ASE Project Perch article in Sun Sentinel today!

Project Perch is working to save burrowing owls in Palm Beach County. The Audubon Society of the Everglades is having a meeting to discuss the project on July 11. (Susan Faulkner Davis/Courtesy)

Project Perch works to protect burrowing owls

Jan Engoren

The Audubon Society of the Everglades will have its next meeting July 11 to discuss Project Perch, a Florida burrowing owl translocation project. The owls are threatened because of loss of habitat and other manmade conditions and activities that jeopardize their colonies.

Project Perch is working to stabilize and increase the burrowing owl populations in Southeastern Florida, principally through passive attraction to nearby schools and parks, which the owls like for their wide-open space.

Crystal Lakes Elementary School in Boynton Beach provides habitat for the owls.

“We want to let people know the Florida burrowing owls have been moved from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission species of special concern to threatened last November,” said Susan Davis, Project Perch coordinator for Palm Beach County.

Burrows, owls and their eggs are protected from harassment and disturbance by state law.

“We’ve been losing burrowing owls from Palm Beach and Broward counties for some time,” she said, noting that historically Broward County had the second largest population in the state after Lee County.

The burrowing owl is one of the state’s smallest owls at 9 inches tall with a 21-inch wingspan. Of 171 species of owls worldwide, it’s the only owl that lives underground.

They have long legs and a short tail, are mostly brown with numerous white or tan spots and have white eyebrows just above bright yellow eyes.

Project Perch provides burrows, owl-friendly fencing, educational and protective signage, and comes to the aid of burrowing owls wherever they are in trouble. The group is looking for volunteers to help with a new census to count the number of burrowing owls in Palm Beach County.

“We want to find out where the owls are living and see how we can help them,” Davis said. “If they’re imperiled, we create artificial burrows for them to live in.”

In urban settings, burrowing owls often choose airports and school playgrounds as preferred habits, seeing them as wide-open grasslands relatively free of predators and with ample opportunity for them to procure insects and other prey.

The group partners with South Florida Wildlife Center, Florida Wildlife Commission, area airports, homeowners, churches, parks, golf courses and county schools to provide habitats.

Speakers at the meeting will include Kelly Heffernan, an avian biologist and the director or Project Perch; Renata Schneider, director of Wildlife Rehabilitation at the South Florida Wildlife Center; Paul Kragh, an Owl Guardian and Project Perch coordinator in Broward County; and Mat Natali, wildlife biologist at Fort Lauderdale Airport.

“I started out in airports because a large part of it included doing something I enjoyed, namely observing birds and wildlife, as part of an airport’s Wildlife Hazard Assessment,” Natali said in a statement.

Heffernan, who began the project in 2008, said the Florida burrowing owl is “a unique and captivating raptor. They are Florida’s homegrown, organic pesticide, eating everything we don’t like. They are an essential part of our environment.”

“They’re very adaptable in an urban environment,” she said. “We can create artificial burrows very inexpensively with PVC pipe and $10 utility boxes.

“It’s up to us to save this native species. They don’t fly or migrate anywhere else; they’re ours to keep or lose.”

Doors open at 6:30 p.m. for refreshments in rooms 101 and 102 at FAU Pine Jog Environmental Education Center, 6301 Summit Blvd., in West Palm Beach. The meeting is free and open to everyone.

Visit Project Perch at owlslive.com. They are trying to find owl locations in Palm Beach County. Email ProjectPerch@AudubonEverglades.org.

What You Can Do To Help

  • Install T-perches near owl burrows. Perches provide burrowing owls with an elevated view of the nest area, and also make the burrows more visible to mowing machine operators. Many burrows collapse each year when mower tires pass near the burrow entrance. If you put up perches, be sure to keep the grass and weeds trimmed low around the burrow to give the owls the unobstructed view that they need to avoid predators.
  • Restrict use of pesticides. Because burrowing owls feed on insects that are considered pests around homes, they are exposed to the insecticides you use. Pesticides decrease and possibly contaminate food available to owls. Explore options other than using pesticides, but if you continue to use them, do so with caution.
  • Attracting owls to your lawn. Burrowing owls may dig burrows in sodded yards if vacant lots are scarce. To attract a pair, remove a 1 to 2 foot circular plug of sod from the lawn. This exposes the sandy soil needed by the owls for burrowing. You might also start the burrow and place a pile of loose sand near the mouth. Placing a T-perch near the burrow can help draw it to a pair’s attention.
  • Report malicious destruction or harassment of burrowing owls or their nests to 888-404-3922.

Link to Sun Sentinel story