By: Sharon Aron Baron
One resident doesn’t give a hoot about plans for a new charter school being built.
A burrowing owl who has made her home on the land proposed for a new charter school plans on raising her family right there.
Last January, the Tamarac City Manager put out a request for proposals for a new charter school at the Sports Complex on 7.445 acres of land at Nob Hill Road and NW 77 Street that is currently used as the skate park, basketball courts and tennis courts. The school that was agreed upon by City Staff was the Doral Academy Preparatory School for grades 6 through 12.
But the owl who lives comfortably near the basketball courts, isn’t packing up and moving anywhere soon.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the Florida burrowing owl is classified as a “species of special concern.” This means burrows, owls, and their eggs are protected from harassment and/or disturbance by state law. Burrowing owls are also protected by the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
If you don’t know about these creatures, then you need to read Carl Hiaasen’s book “Hoot” that was made into a charming movie, which I took my children to see back in 2006.
Set in Florida, the story is about a group of children trying to save a burrowing owl habitat from destruction. The habitat was located on the proposed construction site of a pancake house. The developer of the project intended to proceed regardless of the environmental damage it would have caused. However, in the end, both children and owls prevailed and the construction site eventually became an owl preserve.
Staff at the Tamarac Sports Complex must be familiar with the burrowing owls because areas are already cordoned off for them along with visible warning signs about them. Most people walk by never noticing them. That is, until you get too close. We took photos with a zoom lens because if you get too close to the mother, she will hiss loudly.
Burrowing owls nesting season begins in late March or April when the mother owl makes her nest in an underground burrow and will lay an egg every 1 or 2 days until she has completed a clutch, which can consist of 4–12 eggs (usually 9). She will then incubate the eggs for three to four weeks while the male brings her food. After the eggs hatch, both parents will feed the chicks. Four weeks after hatching, the chicks can make short flights and begin leaving the nest burrow. The parents will still help feed the chicks for 1 to 3 months. While most of the eggs will hatch, only 4–5 chicks usually survive to leave the nest.
According to Wildlife Scientist Budd Titlow, the developer should have filed a plan and obtained a permit for impacting the owls and their habitat (burrows). Typically this would involve relocating the owls to proven suitable habitat before any construction begins on the site. “If the owls are not relocated before site construction begins there is a good chance they could be buried alive in their burrows.”
Burrowing Owls are also a creature of habit according to Titlow who said that the owls will remain in the same area and will continue to nest in the same burrows. “The only reasons they might leave are on-site disturbances, land development occurring too close to their burrow, and curtailment of prey base – from development surrounding the site, or lack of nesting success due to predation of eggs and chicks.”
Fortunately for the owls, the only thing they have going for them is that the charter school hasn’t yet been voted on by the mayor and the commission who have kept mum about their opinion whether they are for or against the development.
Hopefully, elected officials take into consideration not only the residents that currently enjoy the recreational amenities of the park, but the creatures that are inhabiting it already.
Thank you to Kings Point residents Mel Lynn and Marian Cohen for bringing the burrowing owls to our attention.