Sunday, August 18, 2013

Burrow, Owls... Burrow for Your LIVES!

Besides Daggerwing, another stop that we took on our south Florida trip down memory lane, was a visit to our alma mater, FAU. If FAU sounds familiar to you, it may have something to do with the well-deserved run of very bad publicity they've had over the past year, not least of which involved naming their new football stadium after a private prison company with a long record of alleged human rights violations. The name has, thankfully, been changed but the stadium, unfortunately, is there to stay.

The stadium mockingly known as "Owlcatraz"

Construction on the stadium began before I left with my doctorate, but completed after we arrived in Savannah, and so we hadn't had the chance to see the finished product yet. To be clear, this mattered to us for one reason, and one reason only: the construction site had seemed to pose an existential threat to the campus' resident Burrowing Owls, and we needed to know that they were doing alright.

Burrowing Owl doing alright

The owls happen to be the school's mascot, which, in practice, yields no benefits to the owls themselves. On campus they primarily occupy a strip of flat, grassy land that runs parallel to an area for student parking colloquially known as "the runway". During WWII the campus was used as an airfield by the Army Air Corps, and parking has since been converted from an actual runway (airports are common places for Burrowing Owls to nest). They've long had to contend with heavy student traffic, but the real danger was that the administration was going to sacrifice the owls in the name of "progress", what with new construction projects breaking ground constantly. Just before they had begun the stadium up they had bulldozed an adjacent plot that I'm fairly sure contained Gopher Tortoises, so our concerns were by no means unjustified.

I hope so

Despite our fears, however, the owls seem to be doing okay. A wooden fence was constructed around the entire strip, and plenty of signs are posted declaring it a protected area. Most importantly, there were so many owls! When we visited, we could make out dozens of wooden perches that had each been placed by a burrow. The grass was getting kind of long, obscuring the farther burrows somewhat, but even just a few meters inside the enclosure we could see an entire family.

And what a family! We saw one adult lazily standing beside its burrow, dozing off, while a couple of curious owlets stared at us from across the road. The next time we looked, there were a couple more owlets… and then a couple more! They kept popping up from out of nowhere, and stared inquisitively at us like we were the most fascinating things in the world. We were old-hat to the adult, though. Certainly nothing worth missing sleep over. (Note that we weren't at all close to the burrow -- we just happened to be the only things around to look at).

The owl family seemed impressively huge, but is actually pretty typical of Burrowing Owls, who have clutches sizes of about 9 eggs, on average. If anything then, this may have been on the smaller side! In any case, we're happy to report that the FAU Burrowing Owls are still hanging in there. With any luck, the land will remain a conservation area indefinitely, despite the administration's ambitions for a sprawling, expensive-to-maintain complex of unnecessary structures. Hopefully the new salience given to the owls by the fence enclosure will give the FAU community an increased awareness of their presence, and a renewed sense of responsibility toward our mascot.


  1. Love the captions on these photos! :)

  2. We have burrowing owls in Washington too, on the eastern side of the Cascades. I am heartened to hear about the persistance of the owl family and your attentiveness to their plight. I hope the campus grows to care about this little family, esp. considering it is the school mascot!

    1. Thank you for the comment, Bryony! I share your hope that the FAU community rallies around their Strigid neighbors, and I wish the best for your Burrowing Owls up by the Cascades