Unexpected Passenger Stows Away for a Royal Caribbean Cruise

A Royal Caribbean cruise ship had an unexpected and unauthorized guest onboard a recent sailing, one that got special help to disembark.

A recent Royal Caribbean sailing aboard Symphony of the Seas had a surprising stowaway – a burrowing owl. The bird was spotted aboard the ship during the cruise, and was assisted with its debarkation when the ship returned to Miami after the two-week sailing.

Owl Stows Away Onboard

The burrowing owl, an aptly-named small raptor that nests in underground burrows, was found aboard Symphony of the Seas during a two-week sailing in January.

The bird was noticed during the sailing, but it was impossible to release the bird in a foreign location. Not only would doing so violate laws regarding the transport of wildlife, but the bird would have been in an unfamiliar habitat and unable to survive.

Owl on Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: FWC Florida Fish and Wildlife

Instead, Florida Fish and Wildlife biologist Ricardo Zambrano came aboard the Oasis-class cruise ship after guests had debarked on January 21 and before the next sailing’s guests embarked the ship to safely capture the bird.

Crew members helped string mist nets – soft but sturdy nets used by wildlife biologists to capture birds humanely – across the Central Park area of the ship so the bird could be caught.

The crafty bird avoided many of the nets and spent time perching on balcony railings, but was eventually netted with a hand net as crew members distracted it from Zambrano’s approach. “I got lucky,” Zambrano said of the hour-long pursuit.

A Healthy Cruise Passenger

Burrowing owls typically eat insects and the occasional small lizard or rodent. While the ship’s Central Park area does have both natural and artificial trees and there likely were some insects for the bird to catch, it was underweight when it was disembarked from the cruise ship.

Owl on Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: FWC Florida Fish and Wildlife

The owl was surrendered to wildlife officials at South Florida Wildlife Center where it was evaluated. Though skinny, the bird was uninjured and in otherwise good health. It remained at the rehabilitation facility for almost a month, fattening up on an appropriate diet before being released in Davie, Florida, approximately 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of PortMiami and in prime burrowing owl habitat.

About Burrowing Owls

The burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia) is a long-legged bird most active during the day, when it hunts on the ground or stands guard at its burrows. The birds are widespread in western North America, but also found year-round in much of south Florida and South America. They are easily identified by their sandy, spotted feathers, smoothly rounded heads, and bright yellow eyes.

Grasslands, deserts, and other open habitats are preferred by burrowing owls, and they are often seen on golf courses or in suburban habitats where conservation projects have installed artificial burrows for the birds to use.

This is not the first time a burrowing owl has enjoyed a visit to a Royal Caribbean ship. In 2010, a burrowing owl was spotted on the miniature golf course aboard Oasis of the Seas, but was quickly relocated to a more suitable inland habitat.

Sailing on Symphony of the Seas

While Symphony of the Seas may not have many amenities that will appeal to a burrowing owl outside of the open-air Central Park neighborhood, the 228,081-gross-ton ship has many amazing features guests will love.

Royal Caribbean Cruise Ship
Photo Credit: Felix Mizioznikov / Shutterstock

Top picks onboard the ship’s 16 passenger decks include four pools, two FlowRider surf simulators, the 10-story Ultimate Abyss slide, a zip line, ice rink, Aquatheater, 14 specialty restaurants, the Bionic Bar, and much, much more.

Symphony of the Seas debuted in 2018, and is currently repositioning from PortMiami to Barcelona, where she will spend the summer offering Mediterranean sailings from Spain and Italy. In October, the ship will move to Fort Lauderdale to offer Caribbean sailings through the winter – but owls should plan to stay home.

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