Real estate agent allegedly filled Marco Island owl burrow with mothballs

Published: October 8, 2019 4:17 PM EDT
Updated: October 8, 2019 5:54 PM EDT

Who would drop mothballs into a burrowing owl nest?

Surveillance video shows someone doing just that.

The chemical could really hurt the birds, so why do it? There is a possibility it could be a real estate move.

Neighbors say the reality is, someone tried to harm the owl burrow.

“I just know that there were some white, ball-looking things there that my husband noticed and we thought maybe one of the owls had eggs outside of the nest for some reason and so he went over to see what it was and noticed that they were mothballs,” said Tracey Taylor who lives on Marco Island.

“Mothballs are poisonous to owls, I understand, and this is really unfortunate, very uncommon occurrence,” said Brad Cornell, policy director for Audubon Western Everglades.

Owl whose burrow was filled with mothballs (Lin Taylor/Owl Watch Volunteer)

Surveillance footage from one neighbor shows what appears to be a person dumping the mothballs into the burrow earlier this month.

“My understanding is this was a real estate agent and he had some concerns about not being able to sell this lot because it had an owl nesting on it and that’s just not the case,” said Cornell.

Crews including the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Owl Watch scoped the burrow Tuesday afternoon.

“We had great news,” said Jean Hall, project manager with Audubon Western Everglades Owl Watch. “There were no mothballs left inside and we did not find any sick or dead owls.”

The best case scenario for a dangerous situation.

“If people don’t notify others when they see stuff like this happen, then one day we’re not going to have owls,” said Taylor.

FWC says the person could face up to a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.

The company Premiere Plus Realty says the agent in question has been removed and the company has made a donation to the Owl Watch program of Audubon Western Everglades.

They released the following statement in regards to the incident:

We are aware of a serious violation that may involve one of our agents outside of our knowledge. When an issue like this comes to our attention, we take it very seriously. Illegal activity, especially activity that concerns our fragile Florida ecosystem and wildlife, is forbidden. Premiere Plus Realty would never advise anyone to take any action that would harm wildlife. We are still gathering all the details about this situation. Out of an abundance of caution, we have made the decision to remove the individual from the company.

To show our support for the burrowing owl and our commitment to keeping Florida a safe haven for wildlife, we have made a donation to the Owl Watch Program of the Audubon Society of the Western Everglades.

Cornell says it is possible to sell and build on their lots without harming wildlife, but they would have to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation about getting a permit to remove burrows before construction.