CAPE CORAL, Fla. - A fight to protect Cape Coral's Burrowing Owls is pitting one neighborhood against the city's Utilities Expansion Project.
On Thursday, the city destroyed an "inactive" nest. A nest is considered "inactive" as long as it has no chics or eggs.
But neighbors say two owls were living in the burrow, and worry they were burried alive.
"One hundred people walk thru here," says Victor Rayneri. "But the city is the only one to harm them."
Rayneri and his neighbors in the 2300 block of SWF 17th Avenue have enjoyed the owls for years. They are angry the city would destroy a nest that has become a staple of the neighborhood.
"They were magnificent," says Maureen Fatigato. "It was like watching National Geographic."
Cape Coral has special permission to remove up to 60 inactive nests through 2016, as the UEP continues. To date, 13 nests have been removed.
"The Burrowing Owl is the official bird of Cape Coral," says city spokesperson Connie Barron. As such, she says the city takes its wellbeing very seriously.
"If that nest was allowed to remain and the owls did use it, it could be far more detrimental to the birds," Barron says. "Construction in the area could cause the nest to collapse."
Barron says a profesional ecologist uses a camera to scope each nest before a decision is made, ensuring no owls, chics, or eggs are trapped. The city also has a plan to build starter nests in locations where old nests are destroyed, once construction is complete.
But that is little comfort to the owls' fans, who worry a beloved staple of their neighborhood may be gone for good.
"Look at all the ground over here," Rayneri says as he points to vacant lots around his home. "Look at all this space. They couldn't do it somewhere else? They had to bother these birds? No, that doesn't satisfy me at all."