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The Burrowing Owls
At just nine inches and four ounces, the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) is one of the smallest species of the owl family. Its habitat is both North and South America (in the U.S., primarily along the southern corridor of states, including most of Florida, Texas and Southern California). Nesting season runs from mid-February to mid-July each year. 

Coincidentally, the world's largest population resides in Cape Coral, Florida (near Ft. Myers), where an estimated 2,000 pairs of birds are protected and preserved by the non-profit Cape Coral Friends of Wildlife, a volunteer organization dedicated to "preserving and enhancing the habitat of protected wildlife species and educating the community about its natural resources.”

"The burrowing owls of Florida have a high profile because they're found in people's backyards,” says Brian Mealey, President and Executive Director of the Institute of Wildlife Science in South Florida, who served as a key technical consultant on the film with respect to the owls. "The burrowing owl has a unique story in South Florida – they have benefited from urban development. Before this development, there was not a lot of literature on burrowing owls. The big development occurred in Cape Coral in the Ft. Myers area on the west coast of Florida.” 

"A very large population of owls survived in these little lots that were being developed there,” Mealey points out. "Therefore, every empty lot had a burrowing owl. All of a sudden, the lots started disappearing. These empty lots were being built. So, the concerns then were would the owls disappear? But these owls immediately started moving into the front yards of people's homes. And that was the first step in the urbanization of these owls. They benefited from what we have done. If we want to look at a positive story for development, these animals have been able to survive urbanization.” 

This species, which nests in small colonies on plains, grasslands and desert scrubs, differs from most other owls in two ways – it is diurnal (active in daytime), not nocturnal like most owls, and nests in the ground (usually in abandoned squirrel holes), not in trees. Even amidst this unusual and unexpected survival, the burrowing owl has been listed by conservation groups as a "species of special concern” on the scientists' rating of endangered species (a scale which graduates as follows – species of concern, threatened, endangered, extinct). 

"When we started the movie, we weren't going to be able to use any real owls because they are endangered birds,” Wil Shriner states. "We looked at visual effects companies for a digital owl that would work. However, we didn't like the idea of them being fake. We wanted them to be real. So we were able to get some birds out of rehab.”

"Once we were given the script for the film, we had other owl options,” animal trainer Sue Humphrey clarifies. "Wil was pretty insistent that they had to be burrowing owls, which are very specific looking with their long, long legs. There were a couple of other owls that we considered because Fish And Wildlife initially said we couldn't use the burrowing owls. But, at the 11th hour, we were granted permission to use these specific owls.” 

While all of the actual owls in the film are real, they had to be composited to show them with the actors and placed into the scenes. Handmade Digital, whose credits include Little Manhattan, Idiocracy, and Suspect Zero did the on set supervision and digital compositing. Veteran wrangler Humphrey (There's Something About Mary, Home Alone 3, Me, Myself & Irene), of the Orlando-based company Birds & Animals Unlimited, obtained three burrowing owls (nicknamed Wil, Carl and Jimmy!) from the Miami Museum of Science's Bachelor Birds of Prey Center.

"I have done lots of bird work, from chickens to turkeys to parrots to different type


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