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Utilities Extension Project

Protected Species

Gopher Tortoise_BurrowThe City of Cape Coral is home to several protected species, including the Burrowing Owl, Gopher Tortoise, Bald Eagles, the Eastern Indigo Snake and Bonneted Bat. Please know that the Utilities Extension Project staff and contractors are committed to protecting these species and remain sensitive to the environment.

Crews are fully trained in species identification and take the necessary steps to minimize impacts on their habitat. Some of the steps taken to date include:

  • Burrows within the construction limits have been identified and marked by volunteers from the Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife.
  • Species’ habitats will be monitored during construction by Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife.
  • Contractors are required to inspect the project areas on a continuing basis for species occupancy.
  • All staging areas must be free of species’ habitat and approved prior to construction activity.
  • On-site visits to observe burrowing owls and gopher tortoise burrows are conducted routinely.
  • Protected species posters and pamphlets are distributed to construction crews and are posted in all of the contractors’ construction trailers.


Marked Owl Burrow
Burrowing Owls

A LEGALLY PROTECTED SPECIES UNDER STATE AND FEDERAL LAW

On January 11, 2017, the status of the burrowing owl changed from "Species of Special Concern" to state "Threatened."       

Description

The burrowing owl is a mottled sandy brown and white bird, averaging 9 inches in height with a 21-inch wing span. It has relatively long legs, a distinctive white chin patch, and eyes that range in color from bright yellow to brown. It lacks ear tufts typical of some woodland owls. When approached at close range, the burrowing owl may bob its head and utter clucking calls.

Where They Are Found

Within the construction area, the burrowing owl is most likely to be found in open, treeless areas with short ground cover, such as maintained vacant lots and along roadsides. It spends most of its time on the ground and uses burrows year-round for refuge and nesting (nesting season is February 15 – July 10). Average burrows are 6 inches in diameter and extend 4 to 8 feet underground. The burrow entrance is often lined with grass clippings, feathers, paper, and manure. City volunteers have installed wooden perches and PVC pipe protective buffers around many Cape Coral burrows. Owls often can be seen on the perches or PVC pipes. On hot days, they may seek shelter in shaded areas, such as storm drains, near houses, or trees and shrubs.

If You See a Burrowing Owl or Burrow

  1. Cease all work within a 10-feet radius (during non-nesting season) from the burrow and 33-feet during nesting season (i.e., if eggs or flightless young are present). If you are unsure whether the burrow belongs to an owl or gopher tortoise, maintain a 33-feet buffer from the burrow.
  2. Do not disturb or touch the owl or its burrow in any manner. 

Violations of state and federal law are punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.

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Gopher Tortoise

A LEGALLY PROTECTED SPECIES
UNDER FLORIDA LAW, CHAPTER 68A-27 F.A.C.


Description

The gopher tortoise is a medium-sized land turtle with stumpy hind feet and flattened, shovel-like forelimbs designed for digging in sandy soil. Gopher tortoises average 9 to 11 inches in length, although juveniles can be as small as 2 or 3 inches. Their shells are medium to dark brown in color, although juveniles may be yellowish brown.

Where They Are Found

Within the construction area, the gopher tortoise inhabits dry upland areas with a sparse tree canopy and abundant low growing vegetation, such as vacant lots and roadsides. It spends much of its time in long burrows that offer refuge from cold, heat, drought and predators. Gopher tortoise burrows can often be spotted because of the sand mound or “apron” created during excavation at the burrow entrance. Gopher tortoise burrow openings are half-moon shaped with the curve at the top. Burrows average 15 feet long and 7 feet deep. City of Cape Coral staff and volunteers have installed PVC pipe near some burrows, but not all.

If You See a Gopher Tortoise or Burrow

  1. Cease work and maintain a minimum 25 feet protective buffer from the burrow or tortoise.
  2. Do not disturb or touch the gopher tortoise or its burrow in any manner. Only the project biologist may come into contact with a gopher tortoise or its burrow.

Violations of state and federal law are punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.

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BALD EAGLE


A LEGALLY PROTECTED SPECIES UNDER STATE AND FEDERAL LAW

Description

Adult eagles are dark brown with a white head and tail. The eyes bills, legs, and feet are yellow. Juveniles are dark brown overall with white mottling or spots on the belly, tail and under the wings. The eyes are dark brown and the bill is gray to black. Female eagles may weigh 14 pounds and have a wingspan of 8 feet while make eagles are smaller and may weigh as mush as 10 pounds and have a wingspan of 6 feet. The record life span for a bald eagle in the wild is 28 years.

Bald eagles are opportunistic foragers, feeding or scavenging on a wide variety of prey. Primary prey includes fish and waterfowl species (79% fish such as: catfish, brown bullhead; 17% bird such as: coot; 3% mammals such as: rabbits and 1% amphibians/reptiles such as: turtles and snakes). Most prey is captured from the surface water, but bald eagles often harass ospreys in flight to drop the fish they have captured. Bald eagles in Florida often scavenge carcasses along the roadway or garbage at landfills.

Where They Are Found

Within the construction area, the bald eagle is most likely to be found along the coast and on lakes, rivers or canals where they feed mainly on fish. Bald eagles are highly social outside of nesting season (nesting season is October 1 - May 15), but are extremely territorial when nesting. Nest sites tend to be built near the edges of eagle habitats, such as in a living tree that offers a view of the surrounding area and that can support the eagle's sizeable nest. Eagles build there nests in pine trees, cypress trees, mangroves, great blue heron nests, artificial structures such as communication towers, transmission towers and raptor nesting platforms, and even though very rarely on the ground. Nearly all bald eagle nests in Florida are built within 1.8 miles of water.

If You Find or Encounter any of the Following Situations:

  • Molesting, harassing, or killing Bald Eagles and/or damaging or destroying a Bald Eagles nest or nesting tree is a crime. Please report the violations to the City of Cape Coral at 239-573-3077 and FWC’s 24 hour hotline at 1-888-404-3922

  • Injured or wounded Bald Eagles please immediately call the Clinic Rehab of Wildlife (CROW) at 239-472-3644 or the City of Cape Coral at 239-573-3077.

  • New Bald Eagle nests please report to the City of Cape Coral at planningquestions@capecoral.gov

  • Join the Bald Eagle Watch Program at planningquestions@capecoral.gov

Violations of state and federal law are punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.

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EASTERN INDIGO SNAKE

A LEGALLY PROTECTED SPECIES UNDER STATE AND FEDERAL LAW THAT MAY INHABIT THIS CITY

Description

The eastern indigo snake is a nonpoisonous state and federally protected species. It is shiny, blue-black in color with white, coral, rust or reddish color around the chin, throat, and cheeks. It is a thick-bodied snake that averages 6 feet in length and can grow to 8.6 feet. Young are similar to adults but some are lighter and show a blotched dorsal pattern.

Where They Are Found

Indigo snakes are most often found along the edges of swamps and marshes and in pine flatwoods and hardwoods communities where food is abundant. However, this snake is considered a commensal species of the gopher tortoise, which means it may be found in the project area, as it relies upon gopher tortoise burrows for refuge. It is generally active during the day and feeds on fish, frogs, toads, lizards, small turtles, birds, and small mammals.

If You See an Eastern Indigo Snake

  1. Cease construction and do not disturb it. Any disturbance of this snake’s activity is prohibited.

  2. The snake should be allowed sufficient time to move away from the site or be relocated by a qualified wildlife biologist before any work is resumed. Only a qualified wildlife biologist  is permitted to come in contact with the snake. Work can resume after it has moved from the area or has been relocated by a qualified wildlife biologist.

  3. If a dead eastern indigo snake is found, the specimen should be thoroughly soaked in water and frozen immediately. Sightings of eastern indigo snakes should be reported immediately to a qualified wildlife biologist.

Violations of state and federal law are punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.

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BONNETED BAT

A LEGALLY PROTECTED SPECIES UNDER STATE AND FEDERAL LAW

Description

The bonneted bat's color varies from black to brown to grayish or cinnamon brown, averaging 6.5 inches in height with a 20 inch wing span. It is the largest species of bat in Florida, weighing in at a mere 1.2 to 1.7 ounces. The bonneted bat is a non-migratory. Like other bats in the family, it is free-tailed, meaning its tail extends well beyond a short tail membrane. Its diet of the bonneted bat primarily consists of flying insects, such as beetles, flies and true bugs.

Where They Are Found

The bonneted bat have been detected foraging in native habits including wetlands, semitropical forests with tropical hardwood, pinelands, and mangrove habitats, as well as man-made areas such as golf-courses or neighborhoods. This species may have two breeding seasons each year, which has been documented during June thru September and also January and February.

Because of its extremely limited range and low numbers, the bonneted bat is vulnerable to a wide array of natural and human-related threats. Habitat loss, degradation, and modification from human population growth and the associated development and agriculture are major threats and are expected to further curtail the species' limited range. The effects resulting from climate change, including sea-level rise and coastal squeeze, are expected to become sever in the future and result in additional habitat losses, including the loss of roost sites and foraging habitat.

The effects of small population size, restricted range, few colonies, slow reproduction, low fertility, and relative isolation also contribute to its vulnerability. Other factors may impact the species, such as its removal from buildings or artificial structures being used as roost sites, removal of roost trees, impacts from large intense hurricanes, and pesticides and contaminants from multiple sources that impact both the bat and prey insects.

Violations of state and federal law are punishable by fines and/or imprisonment.

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