For years I’ve been wanting to visit Cape Coral during Burrowing Owl nesting season. Cape Coral has the largest population of breeding Burrowing Owls in Florida. I’ve enjoyed photographing Burrowing Owls in the past, both in Central Florida and at Brian Piccolo Park in southeast Florida. The attraction of Cape Coral is the large number of nests. While I’d heard that it would be easy to find owls, it surprised me just how easy. Rich and I had a fun afternoon of driving around, looking for burrows, and then photographing one nest in gorgeous golden afternoon light.
The Burrowing Owl is one of the smallest owls, and it’s the only one that nests underground. The above photo shows an adult owl just outside the burrow, which can extend 10 feet underground. All the known burrows in Cape Coral are marked with PVC pipe and little crosses. When we first drove into town, I started saying “there’s one! There’s another one! Wow, they’re all over!” Rich got to be a very good owl-spotter. Thanks, honey! :)
The birds begin to breed in February, and babies come out of the burrows starting in April. Before the babies hatch, the dad usually stands watch outside the burrow while Mom incubates below. The best nests to photograph are the ones with babies. There’s never a dull moment with a bunch of young ones to feed!
As the afternoon light improved, I settled down by a nest with (I thought) two babies. Many of the well-photographed burrows are now empty due to too much love from humans, so I was careful to approach quietly, sit still, use my Beast, and not stay as long as I really wanted to. :) By sitting low to the ground, you get a beautiful blurred background and wonderful portraits of these fun birds.
The babies are so cute! Their downy feathers and big eyes are great. They are such fun to watch as they come out of the burrow, stretch their legs and wings, and beg for food from their parents. They bob their heads repeatedly and move their heads in funny circles as they watch their nest area.
The parents sit close by, watching carefully over their little family. Dad sat on a nearby cross and Mom alternated between perching above the nest and standing outside the burrow. She looked tired – raising a family takes a lot of energy!
When I first spotted the nest, I thought there were two babies in it. Then a surprise popped out of the burrow…three babies! The two younger babies stood begging for dinner while the older baby ran around stretching his wings. He did these little hop-skip-jumps that were just adorable. Look at the pin feathers on his wings!
The little owls made raspy crying noises every time the parents moved. They clearly wanted some food. The parents ignored the begging and the babies eventually gave up and ate whatever tasty morsel Dad had left at the entrance of the burrow. I could see them nibbling, although thankfully, I couldn’t see on what!
The babies make it very clear to Mom when they are hungry…
…and if Mom doesn’t respond, the babies can be a little vicious. Look at how this baby is trying to stab Mommy in the eye! Mom just sat there and took it.
The gorgeous afternoon light got sweeter and sweeter, and the surprises weren’t over for the evening. Two more little owlets made an appearance of the burrow, bringing the total to five babies. I sat mesmerized, sometimes forgetting to hit the shutter button, as I watched the nightly routine of these birds. Somehow I managed to squeeze Mom and all 5 babies into the frame at one point…but getting everybody to look at the camera at the same time was too much to ask!
The smallest chick spent the least amount of time outside the burrow. He came out, walked a few steps into the nearby grass, and took a nap.
The people of Cape Coral are very proud of their owls, and as I packed up my gear, I chatted with several locals about the owlets and the nest. It was such a fun afternoon! I look forward to going back another year, maybe a week or two earlier to catch the babies when they are smaller.