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The Mystery of the Tampa Bay’s Burrowing Owl Population

Digging deep into the history and mystery of TBAY’s Burrowing Owl — with some ways to lend a helping wing.

Burrowing Owl

Burrowing owls are often not nocturnal unlike their cousins.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Table of Contents

👋 City Editor Brad here, and boy, do I have a hoot for you.

As a child, I eagerly awaited the weekend when my family would throw a couple bucks into a Redbox to rent a movie. Without fail, I would always request “Hoot,” a heartwarming 2006 family comedy. The movie taught me something truly remarkable about the Sunshine State — we have a species of owl that doesn’t live in trees like most owls do. Instead, these plucky little creatures dig underground burrows to create cozy nests.

Somewhere between 3,000-10,000 of these burrowing owls live in Florida — 300-1,000 of which are estimated to call the Greater Tampa Bay area home, according to the Florida Wildlife Commission. And FWC officials say, “development in urban areas (like the boom we’ve seen in TBAY) may cause decline.”

With areas getting paved over, it might be worth thinking about how many of these owls + other native animals are potentially losing their habitats.

Notable sightings

There have been some interesting sightings of these yellow-eyed, speckle-feathered birds in the Tampa Bay area over the years, though. Take, for instance, the three burrowing owls spotted on the runway of Albert Whitted Airport in downtown St. Pete on May 25, 1998. However, their presence was short-lived as they flew away during a notably loud late summer air show in June 2007.

Do your part

We spoke to Barbara Walker, President of the nonprofit Moccasin Lake Raptor Sanctuary (2750 Park Trail Ln., Clearwater). She offered up these tips to help prevent these feathered friends from fleeing TBAY:


  • Helping install artificial burrows or faux-rows around town with the Tampa Audobon. General meetings for the organization are on the 1st Thursday of the month at the Tampa Garden Club (2629 Bayshore Blvd., Tampa).


  • If you see something, say something. Report any nest findings to Project BUR-O (what a great name). As far as we know, the group just wants to make a note of burrow — not rehouse the birds. Pro tip: The owls like to shelter up near short fence posts in open areas with just a few trees, like golf courses, lawns, and sports fields.

Be smart

  • Stay 30 ft away from the protected species so as not to bother or disturb their burrows.

Are there another species in need of the spotlight? Let us know.

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