Burrowing owls and an award-winning student headline latest Marco DAR meeting

Chris Curle
Special to the Eagle

The winner of the Daughters of the American Revolution American History Essay is Marco Island Charter Middle School 7th grader Kathryn Barry.

DAR members presented her with a certificate and medal at their Feb. 16 chapter meeting at the Hideaway Beach Club. The essay was in the form of a journal entry by a 14-year old living in Chicago during WWI.

One of Marco’s burrowing owl chicks.
Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) member, Lou Baush, presented a check to Allison Smith, a graduate student at the University of Florida, toward her burrowing owl project on Marco Island. She is working understand the habitat needs of the unique owls to ensue their long-term survival as empty lots become scarcer on Marco Island.
Marco Island Charter Middle School language arts teacher, Kerri Holdsworth, stands with her student, 7th grader Kathryn Barry, who received a DAR certificate for her winning American History Essay "World War I: Remembering the War to End All Wars."

The members also gave a check to her teacher, Kerry Holdsworth, on behalf of the school.

The second part of the DAR program was about the future of Marco Island’s beloved burrowing owls.

Allison Smith, a graduate student at the University of Florida, Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation, shared her extensive knowledge of burrowing owls on Marco Island.

She told the members that last year had the highest number of burrowing owls ever recorded on Marco.

“There are over 240 lots in Marco Island that have burrows.

Last year, our Owl Watch program accounted for 170 burrowing owl pairs on Marco Island, plus a few single bachelor owls, for a total of about 350 adult owls; 119 of those pairs successfully raised chicks, for a total of 317 chicks raised last year.”

Smith said burrowing owls are much more than adorable and entertaining. “They also provide some natural pest control in Marco Island. They eat mostly insects, such as grasshoppers, roaches, mole crickets and beetles. They also eat invasive Cuban anoles (lizards), Cuban tree frogs, and house geckos.”

And, she said, they pay their way. “They contribute to Marco Island's economy. Lots of people travel here to see our burrowing owls, in addition to the other wildlife on the island.”

Smith touted Marco’s “starter burrow” program where homeowners dig a hole in an appropriate part of their property in hopes of enticing a mating pair of owls.

“More than 35 landowners have contacted us, including three condo associations. We think it's incredible that so many people want owls in their front yard. Several owls have been seen checking out these new burrows.”

Smith explained why the “starter burrow” program is key to the survival of the owls on Marco Island. 

“The number one threat to burrowing owls in Florida is habitat loss, and they are rapidly losing that (vacant lots). However, these owls here are very tolerant of humans, so we think they may be able to live in very close proximity to us, such as in front yards and right-of-ways. I'm looking to see if Owl Watch's starter burrow program an effective way to provide owls with more nesting habitat.”

“The answer is ‘No!’” Smith said, to the question of whether a burrow on a vacant lot prohibits building a house. “Burrowing owls do not prevent construction. Landowners can get a permit from the Florida Wildlife Commission, which allows them to build outside the nesting season.”

Anyone interested in volunteering or learning more about burrowing owls can participate in the Owl Watch training program. Volunteers monitor owl nests once every other week from March through July. Fill out the form at the link https://goo.gl/forms/rbxe4oYZMdHGb8EA3  or email OwlWatchMarco@gmail.com.

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The Marco Island Chapter of the DAR was established in 1976. It has 59 members, 15 associate members. Monthly luncheon meetings are at 10:30 a.m. on the third Thursday of each month. Potential members and visitors from other chapters are welcome.  Please contact Karen Lombardi at 239-394-0028.