Published: Sep 20, 2010 7:14 PM EDT
Updated: Sep 20, 2010 4:14 PM EDT

FWC - A Florida burrowing owl, listed as a species of special concern, was just hours away from becoming a cruise ship stowaway on Saturday. Just before Royal Caribbean International's "Oasis of the Seas" was to depart Port Everglades for a tropical locale, the owl was discovered on the ship's mini-golf course, on the upper deck. A Royal Caribbean crew member called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

FWC Lt. David Bingham and a Broward County Sheriff's Office deputy safely removed the pint-sized bird from the golf course. Bingham released the owl in an open field in western Broward County.

"Never in all of my 25 years with the FWC have I seen anything like this, and I have responded to some strange calls," Bingham said. "I am very pleased the owl wasn't injured and that we could get it back to a normal habitat."

As a species of special concern, Florida burrowing owls, their burrows and their eggs are protected from harassment and/or disturbance by state law. Burrowing owls also are protected by the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

"Burrowing owls need to be in open, treeless areas where they can dig their burrow," said FWC biologist Ricardo Zambrano. "The artificial turf on the ship's golf course resembles the fields they use for nesting in urban areas; however, it was obviously not suitable habitat for this owl."