Florida burrowing owl released on MacDill

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Joshua Hastings
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing

A Florida burrowing owl was relocated and released by a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) biologist April 8 at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

Florida burrowing owls are pint-sized birds with black, brown and white coloring, which helps them stay camouflaged on the ground where they spend most of their time. These birds are currently a state-designated threatened species.

“Once common throughout Florida and Tampa Bay, habitat loss has driven the Florida burrowing owl’s population down,” said Andrew Lykens, 6th Civil Engineer Squadron Environmental Element manager. “The airfield on MacDill provides a habitat for the only known remaining colonies of Florida burrowing owls in Hillsborough County. Adding to the population is a great thing.”

The relocated owl was discovered in a truck at a construction site in Palmetto, Florida, more than 20 miles south of MacDill.

“Owls, particularly juveniles that are not adept at burrowing, will often find cover in dark spaces such as culverts or open garages,” said Rebecca Schneider, a biologist with the FWC. “Since the natal location is unknown, and it was not viable to remain at the construction site, the owl was collected and taken to a local wildlife rehabilitation center.”

The owl was disoriented when initially discovered at the site, but it was determined that the bird didn’t need medical attention when evaluated at the rehabilitation center. The owl remained there until MacDill was selected as the location for its release.

Schneider said that MacDill was chosen as the release site because of the viable and suitable natural habitat for the owls, and that as many as a dozen group of birds currently live on the base. 

The owl was transported from the rehab center to MacDill in a spacious carrier that allowed the bird to stand upright. During handling, the FWC biologist used a red light to prevent any potential vision impairment of the owl. The bird was held in a safe grip that immobilized its wings during banding so it wouldn’t be injured.

“Florida burrowing owls are mostly diurnal, meaning they are active during the day, but their peak activity is at dawn and dusk,” Schneider said. “Releasing this individual owl at first light meant that it would likely quickly encounter another active burrowing owl.”

The successful relocation of this burrowing owl demonstrates MacDill’s efforts toward conservation and sustaining healthy wildlife populations on the base.

“MacDill is highly committed to the conservation of its natural resources through a multitude of different projects and efforts,” Lykens said. “Today’s [burrowing owl] relocation and release is a great example of how conservation efforts taken at MacDill provide a suitable habitat for an imperiled species.”

To conserve the burrowing owl, it is important to be aware of the needs of the owls, and direct efforts toward protecting their habitat, nest sites and populations for future generations to enjoy.

For more information about burrowing owls and other wildlife species in Florida, visit the FWC website at myfwc.com.