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Burrowing owls
Posted October 4, 2021 | 12:47 PM

Healthy Birds, Healthy Environment

Florida Birding and Nature Festival shows, tells importance of habitat preservation

The upcoming Florida Birding and Nature Festival is for everyone, not just intense birders adding to their life lists of observed species or backyard bird-watchers hoping to spot a Florida scrub-jay.

The purpose of the Oct. 15-17 event is to increase awareness of birds and their habitats. After all, an environment that's healthy for birds also provides clean air and water for the region's human residents. Birds also are big business, enhancing the local economy through eco-tourism.

The festival is based at TECO's Manatee Viewing Center, 6990 Dickman Road, Apollo Beach. There are field trips, including some to Hillsborough County Nature Preserves, boat trips, a silent auction, Zoom seminars, keynote speakers, and a free nature expo. Fees vary depending on events attended and whether participating in-person or virtually.

Strawberries
Terns and other shorebirds are abundant in Hillsborough County.

Organizers are taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. All events are held either outside or by Zoom. Masks are required and social distancing is encouraged.

The festival gives all participants a chance to see and learn about the area's birds and other wildlife.

"People are not interested in conserving what they don't see," says Mary Keith, director of the Tampa Audubon Society and co-chair of the festival. "And conserving those wetlands, woods, fields, and mangroves, that's what's going to help maintain clean air and water for all of us, protect our shorelines when the next storm comes through, soak up the extra rain so we don't all get flooded."

Tampa Audubon, a major festival sponsor, recently launched a program to help restore burrowing owls in Hillsborough County. The county once had the largest population of burrowing owls in the nation, but eliminating much of the ground-dwelling birds' natural habitat has severely affected its presence here. Tampa Audubon volunteers are digging burrows, including some in County preserves, to simulate ones in which the owls naturally live.

Top photo: Tampa Audubon is leading an effort to dig artificial "homes" in Hillsborough County Nature Preserves and elsewhere for burrowing owls. Photo provided by Jill Yelverton.

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