River Cities

Burrowing owls nest on Miami Springs High School ball field

A burrowing owl stands guard above its nest on the baseball field at Miami Springs High.
A burrowing owl stands guard above its nest on the baseball field at Miami Springs High. For the Miami Herald

Burrowing owls have courageously sought refuge under a tractor tire on the baseball field at Miami Springs Senior High.

Underneath an old tire out in left field once used for football practice lies an active nest of legally protected tiny brown burrowing owls with bright yellow eyes.

“The principal has informed me that the school has taken the preventive measures recommended thus far by the state,” said John Schuster, a spokesman with Miami-Dade Public Schools. “They used the materials that were provided by the state to do this.”

One precaution recommended by the state was to build a buffer around the nest, which lies on the baseball team’s left field. The doll-like, animated burrowing owls are smaller than a football, measuring less than nine inches tall.

Schuster said that if further preventive measures are needed, the school will “take those precautions as they are received.”

It is unclear how the owl’s nest will affect the school’s baseball team when the season starts in February. Nesting season generally runs from February through July, though it can start earlier, as in this case.

“The school seems to want to protect the owls, so PETA hopes administrators will immediately bring in a wildlife expert to evaluate the situation and determine how best to keep the owls safe,” said Colleen O’Brien, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Already deemed a threatened or endangered species throughout North America, the burrowing owls’ population continues to dwindle.

In some cases, an inactive nest with no eggs or flightless chicks may be destroyed. However, the nest at the high school is active and protected under state and federal law and cannot be moved until its season ends.

Meanwhile, state officials are asking the public not to bother or disturb the owls.

“As a species of special concern, it is illegal to pursue, hunt, capture, molest or kill burrowing owls and their nest burrows,” according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Disturbing a nest is a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine or up to a year in jail.