Statewide distribution and habitat use of the Florida Burrowing Owl (Athene cunicularia floridana), currently state-listed as a “Species of Special Concern,” is not well-understood, particularly in remote, nonurban areas. Its status as a protected species is currently being reevaluated and information is needed to help state wildlife managers better understand habitat usage in nonurban areas. To help address this need, we visited Burrowing Owl sites from historical databases to verify and update them while also documenting new locations. We quantified land cover within empirically-derived distances around burrows with confirmed or probable breeding activity, then compared observed and available proportions of habitat, calculated selection indices, and determined selection/avoidance for each land-cover class. These empirical results were used in combination with literature review and field observations to select land-cover criteria for suitable habitat. The final results appear to correlate well with the overall distribution of known nonurban Burrowing Owl records, and demonstrate that a substantial amount of potentially suitable breeding habitat exists throughout Florida's central interior, but only a small proportion of it occurs inside conservation-managed areas. Improved pasture, the most prevalent land-cover class, was the most strongly selected in our study and may be of high importance to nonurban breeding Burrowing Owls. These results may assist wildlife managers in both management actions and species status decisions. We recommend increasing surveys and conservation efforts in nonurban areas and enhancing cooperation with landowners, particularly ranchers, as success on private lands seems crucial to the long-term persistence of this species in Florida.
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Vol. 45 • No. 2