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Wildlife in Florida

Burrowing Owls

The sandy, open lots in Cape Coral are often home to burrowing owl families.  The small, brown, speckled owls live in a maze of underground burrows and tunnels in empty fields throughout the city.  They can also be found along the road and many times make their home in the yards of Cape Coral residents.  

The curious creatures grow to about 9 inches and have a 21-inch  wingspan.  They have bright yellow eyes and a white chin.  Long legs provide enough height to give them a better view from the ground. Their diet consists of small rodents, lizards, beetles and crickets. Burrowing owls are active both day and night and frequently spend many hours atop any handy perch including the outdoor entry lights of a home.  Dig a shallow area in your yard and put up a small perch and you may find an owl family in your yard.  Keep in mind -- they don't always eat all of the food they bring home!     

The State of Florida and a federal bird act protect the owls from being disturbed or harassed.  If a nest of babies is discovered on a construction site, work will halt until the babies are old enough to fly and feed themselves -- around 6 weeks from birth.  

In the months of May - August motorists are asked to be careful around nesting sites.  While the babies are learning to fly, they often rest in the middle of the road and don't seem too concerned about traffic bearing down on them.  

When approached, burrowing owls will bob their heads and bodies to let you know they are unhappy.  They will stay on their perch long enough for you to get a good look but if you get too close, they will quickly leave the area.  

Cape Coral has the state's largest population of burrowing owls - estimated by state officials at around 10,000 pairs. 

Questions & Answers

1. Are burrowing owls found only in Cape Coral?

No.The Florida burrowing owl is a subspecies of burrowing owl found throughout Florida.The western species is found from Canada to Mexico,as far east as Texas and Louisiana and as far west as some states the

Burrowing owl is on the endangered species list.

2. What do burrowing owls eat? Should I feeds them and offer water?

Their main diet consists of insects, anoles (lizards) frogs and mice. They obtain

water from the food they eat. Please do not attempt to feed them.

3. The owls near my house are very protective. Will they attack me or my children?

If you get too close to the burrow, the owls will make a lot of noise, bob their heads and display their wings to dissuade you from getting any closer. The city has never received any reports of injury to humans or pets from owls.

4. When is nesting season?

Officially, from February 15th-July 10th each year. The peak time of nest initiation in Cape Coral is mid-March.

5. How long until the babies are on their own?

At approximately 42 days old, the owls are learning to fly and catch their own food.

Becoming completely independent is a process that does not happen all in one day. It is not uncommon for owls born in May to stay near the nest until August of the same year.

6. Do the owls use the same nest repeatedly?

Owls are site specific, which means they are likely to return to the same territory year after year to raise their young. If the burrow is damaged either by

humans or natural causes, becomes too overgrown, or if the owls are continuously harassed at their current location, they will often move to a nearby area to start a new nest.

7. Is it true you cannot build a house if your lot has an owl burrow on it?

You can build on your property even if there is an owl burrow on site. If the builder can maintain a protective zone with a ten-foot radius centered around the entrance, your home can be built right beside the owl's home.

In fact, we encourage this practice.In the event that  the burrow is not in a location that would allow your a permit from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to destroy the nest. The permit would be effective

after nesting season.

8. Can the owls be relocated?

Since owls are site specific, they return to the same nesting area year after year. The nest can only be destroyed if a permit from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has been issued. Owls can be attracted to starter burrows on already developed properties nearby.

9. The owls have vacated the burrow. Is it legal to fill it in?

No. It is important to remember that the owl burrow,the owls and their eggs are all protected from harassment and/or disturbance by state law. They are also protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

10. Is the owl on the Endangered Species List?

Florida's burrowing owls are listed as a species of special concern by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. There are three levels of protection: species of special concern, threatened and endangered.

Species of special concern are those facing a moderate risk of extinction in the future. A threatened species is one facing a very high risk of extinction in the future. Endangered species are in imminent danger of extinction due to man-made or natural factors. Steps need to be taken now to keep Florida's burrowing owls off the threatened species list.

11. What should I do if I see someone bothering the owls, or trying to hurt them?

Any harassment of burrowing owls or malicious destruction of their nests should be reported to Wildlife Alert. The number is toll-free: 1-800-282-8002.

(Or you can call the City of Cape Coral‘s Planning Division at 574-0552.)

12. What can I do to help the burrowing owls?

# Report harassment  or destruction of the owls and their burrows to Wildlife   Alert at 1-863-648-3200

# Restrict the use of pesticides. Owls eat the insects we consider pests and are therefore exposed to the insecticides we use around our  homes.

Pesticides limit and contaminate the food sources available to the owls.

# Starter burrows. Attracting burrowing owls to our developed properties and integrating them into our community will help ensure their survival.  

Call 574-0552 for more information, or see our brochure, CAPE  CORAL's


# Help keep staked out burrows in your neighborhood free of trash, weeds and overgrown grass.

# Owl burrows on vacant lot nest have to be cordoned off to prevent crushing of burrows that lot mowers do not see. Report owl burrows in need of protection from construction or lot mowers to the City of Cape Coral Planning Division at 574-0552

13.What should I do if I see a sick or injured owl?

Call the City of Cape Coral Planning Division at 574-0552 or C.R.O.W.

(Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) at 472-3644.

Bald Eagles

The bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) is on a list of Threatened Species by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. This classification means the bald eagle could become endangered without proper protection or management. Protection of Cape Coral‘s bald eagles is important since Florida's nesting population constitutes over 80 percent of the entire bald eagle population within the southeastern United States.


Although smaller than northern eagles, the Southern Bald Eagle weighs 8-10 pounds with a wingspan of 6-7 feet. Females are larger than males, as with most raptors. The head and tails of adult eagles are white and their bodies are dark brown.Their eyes, feet and bill are yellow. Juveniles do not yet have the white head and tail,and are brown with scattered white feathers.


Bald eagles are primarily fish eaters, preying occasionally on small mammals and carrion.Eagles have been seen feeding  on roadside kill alongside vultures.


Bald eagle nesting season runs October 1st through May 15th of the following year. Eagles mate for life and use the same site year after year, if the territory is available. In Florida  the eagles usually return in late September or early October. One to three eggs are laid between Late November and early January. The young eaglets hatch 32 - 34 days later and leave the nest in 11-12 weeks, usually by mid-May.

The young birds wander northwards as far as Canada and return by adulthood at 4 - 5 years of age. They find mates and initiate breeding in the vicinity where they were originally hatched. It is not known how many eagles survive the first
4 - 5 years of life, but juvenile mortality is probably high as with most birds.


The main threat to bald eagles in Florida is loss of nesting habitat due to Development. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission have established guidelines for protective zones around eagle nests with certain restrictions imposed to ensure continued success of  those sites. In Cape Coral, eagles are also protected by city Ordinance 13-92 (Code of Ordinances, Chapter 23). Some of the Cape Coral eagles are somewhat "urbanized" and have had good nesting success with regulations established. City regulations establish an eagle nest management zone that extends 1,100 feet in all directions from each eagle nest. Within any eagle nest management zone, heavy outdoor construction is prohibited during eagle nesting season. The City may prohibit construction at any time within 350 feet of an eagle nest.


Malicious destruction of bald eagle nest sites or harassment of eagles should be reported to the City of Cape Coral, Planning Division at
574-0552 or Wildlife Alert at 1-863-648-3200.

If you see a sick or injured eagle, please report it to the Planning Division or C.R.O.W. (Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife) at 472-3644.

Our recommendation for wildlife sightings:

J.N. "Ding" Darling Wildlife Refuge

1 Wildlife Dr., Sanibel, FL 33957

Phone: (239) 472-1100

Closed Friday,  Saturday - Thursday 7:30 a.m. - sunset

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

375 Sanctuary Road West, Naples, FL 34120

Phone: 239-348-9151

open for visitors every day of the year except during violent weather.

Hours: Oct. 1-April 10: 7 AM to *5:30 PM, April 11-Sept. 30: 7 AM to *7:30 PM

Directions: Take I-75 to Exit 111 (Naples Park, C.R. 846) and exit east onto Immokalee Road. Do NOT use Exit 123 (Corkscrew Road)!!!

2. Go approximately 15 miles and turn left onto Sanctuary Road (look a large brown sign on the right and another at the intersection on the left)

3. Sanctuary Road makes a 90 degree left bend -- stay on the paved road! Go to the end of the paved road, look for the entrance sign, and turn right into the parking lot.

Gopher Tortoise - Cape Coral's Terrific Tunnelers

Imagine that you must protect yourself from the elements, and to do so, you have to dig a tunnel in the ground that is as wide as your body,15 - 30 feet long, and 6 feet deep at the end. Not only is this activity vital to your protection, but many others depend on your tunneling ability for their own shelter, food and growth. You cannot use any machinery, not even a shovel. You do it with your bare hands. Most of us would say,"forget it". But for the gopher tortoise, the tunneling is all in a day's work.


The Gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) averages 9 -11 inches long, but can attain lengths of 15 inches. They can weigh up to 15 pounds, but typically weigh about 8 to 10 pounds.

Gopher tortoises are found throughout Florida and prefer sandy, well drained upland areas.They eat grasses, bean family plants, fruits and grass-like plants of the sunflower family.


The gopher tortoise's large, flattened forelimbs have special ligaments that stiffen, making it easier for these incredible animals to dig large tunnels, some more than 30 feet long. These tunnels, called burrows, provide shelter from extreme heat or cold, maintaining a temperature of 70 - 80 degrees in the summer, and 60 - 70 degrees in the winter.

The tortoise's burrow and the excavated sand around the entrance are used by many other invertebrate and vertebrate species to varying degrees. The loss of gopher tortoise habitat means the loss of habitat for up to 300" commensal" (harmonious co-existence) species.

In Cape Coral, there can be scattered enclaves of one to five tortoise burrows on vacant lots, as well as a few areas containing ten to forty burrows. The gopher tortoise's burrow can be recognized by it's half-moon shape and the mound of sand often 3-6 feet wide at the entrance.

The burrows of young gopher tortoises or hatchlings are not so large. A year after hatching, gopher Tortoises usually have a burrow 3 - 4 feet deep.


Gopher tortoises may live more than 40 years, but do not reach reproductive Maturity until 10 to 20 years of age. Mating occurs April to June, with females digging their nest cavity in the mouth of the burrow only once per year. The mean nest size is about six eggs. The incubation period varies from approximately 80 to 110 days.


The gopher tortoise was well established in Florida thousands of years before Human existence. Human consumption and encroachment, resulting in loss and degradation of habitat has contributed substantially to their population decline-about 80 percent over the last one hundred years. In addition, the gopher tortoise does not reach reproductive maturity until ten to twenty years of age, their eggs often succumb to predation, and many are plagued by a life-threatening respiratory disease. All these factors have contributed to the need for the gopher tortoise to be on the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission's Protected Species List as a Species of Special Concern. Out of every 100 eggs laid, it is estimated that only 1 - 3 survive to the adult breeding stage.

The Future:

A lack of genetic diversity is also a problem for the remaining gopher tortoises. However, preserving small, viable populations may make a difference. This prevents the spread of disease, and prevents the loss of large populations due to catastrophic events. With some areas set aside for preservation, it is hoped that the City of Cape Coral can help sustain the gopher tortoise population.

The gopher tortoise is a fascinating and gentle creature whose importance in our local ecosystem cannot be overstated. There are several places nearby that provide easy access to gopher tortoise viewing. You can visit the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center on Burnt Store Road just north of Cape Coral or Sanibel-Captiva Nature Center located on Sanibel Island across from the Ding Darling National Wildlife Sanctuary. Remember, gopher tortoises are land animals. Please don't put them into a body or water where they could drown. If helping one safely across the road, place them on the side they were heading toward. Tortoises are very determined animals and will simply try to cross the road again once you‘ve left if put back on the side they started from.

If you find an injured gopher tortoise, you can contact the City of Cape Coral‘s

Planning Division at 574-0552, or call C.R.O.W.(Clinic for the Rehabilitation Of Wildlife) at 472-3644