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Cape ground owl sees her shadow

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Feb 5, 2024

NBC2 meteorologist Rob Duns tells the public that Athene the Ground Owl saw its shadow at the sixth-annual Ground Owl Day at Pelican Baseball Complex on Friday. CHUCK BALLARO

It has been an unusually cool winter here in Southwest Florida. And it may continue to be cool for some time to come.

That is what Athene, the city’s official burrowing owl, told NBC2 meteorologist Rob Duns on Friday as the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife and Cape Coral Parks and Recreation Department presented the sixth-annual Ground Owl Day at Pelican Baseball Complex, Cape Coral’s version of Groundhog Day.

Athene saw her shadow as she emerged from her burrow, signaling six more weeks of winter, whispering it in Duns’ ear before he held up a “Yes” sign, signaling the news that spring isn’t coming early.

Punxsutawney Phil arose without seeing his shadow, signaling an early spring in Pennsylvania. We will soon see who’s right.

Janet Windisch, spokesperson for the Friends of Wildlife, said the Cape Coral event is to raise awareness of the burrowing owl, the city’s official bird and one that is considered a threatened species.

Athene the Ground Owl whispers in the ear of NBC2 meteorologist Rob Duns at the sixth-annual Ground Owl Day at Pelican Baseball Complex on Friday. CHUCK BALLARO

“We’re trying to build momentum and get the awareness of the community about our events and the importance of the burrowing owl to us,” Windisch said.

The event also as a prelude to the Burrowing Owl Festival to be held Saturday, Feb. 24, at Rotary Park.

Last year’s festival raised more than $60,000.

Nearly 200 people, including city dignitaries, came out for Ground Owl Day, which included comments from the Friends of Wildlife hierarchy regarding how 2023 went, a proclamation by Mayor John Gunter. Duns, once again the master of ceremonies, and Athene, who took time out of her busy schedule for numerous photo ops, along with the other feathered neighbors outside the fences of the complex.

Gunter talked about the importance of the organization and how it protects the nearly 2,500 owl nests in the city limits and how it helped the city potentially get a grant to relocate and designate areas for the owls, a first for the state.

A burrowing owl readies itself for a photo op at the sixth-annual Ground Owl Day at Pelican Baseball Complex on Friday. CHUCK BALLARO

“We’re one of the fastest-growing cities in the country and it’s important to find a balance between our environment, wildlife and the explosive growth we have,” Gunter said.

The Friends of Wildlife have provided a great service to the city, not only for the owls but for gopher tortoises and other threatened animals.

“Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife was founded in 2001 for the purpose of preserving and protecting wildlife, to educate and engage the community on the city’s wildlife, and the importance of wildlife habitat within the city,” said Judy Mitchell, president of Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife.

Money raised goes toward purchasing land with wildlife habitat. Several lots have been donated to the organization.

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