This Northern Saw-whet Owl was admitted briefly yesterday to Owl Moon Raptor Center for flight testing and release. It came from my friend Judy Holzman at All Creatures Great and Small, a wildlife rehab center in Columbia, MD, where it recovered from a soft tissue injury to its left wing. It flew well, and was released at Lamb’s Knoll on South Mountain in Middletown, MD. Lamb’s Knoll is prime Saw-whet Owl habitat and the location of a banding station where a long term study of Saw-whet Owls is underway. The study is called Project OwlNet.
When a hurricane strikes, the human loss is palpable. Where I live, in New Brunswick, NJ, downed trees and broken windows were the worst of the damage. It takes only a short drive to reach places where the devastation was much worse. In some places people are still without power in their homes. In other places they have lost their homes entirely.
Hurricane Sandy caused extensive environmental destruction as well. You may have seen images of New Jersey’s storm-ravaged barrier islands on the news. In some cases it wasn’t the wind and flooding that caused the damage but the forces they released. In northern New Jersey, several oil refineries were damaged by the storm in spite of preparations made before the storm. Oil from these refineries spilled into surrounding wetlands affecting hundreds of geese, ducks, turtles and other wildlife.
Unlike large open water oil spills, such as the 2010 disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, smaller fresh water spills rarely receive national media attention. Yet the damage caused by these smaller spills accounts for the majority of wildlife casualties.
Fortunately, Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research Inc., a wildlife rehabilitation facility located in Newark, Delaware, specializes in oil spill response. Lynne Frink founded Tri-State in 1976 after witnessing the devastation caused by a series of oil spills on the Delaware River. Since then, Tri-State has researched the effects of oil on wildlife and developed effective treatment and response procedures that are used across the country.
After Hurricane Sandy, Tri-State has led the effort to catch, clean, and care for birds and other wildlife affected by several oil spills in New Jersey. Suzanne has attended Tri-State’s Oil Spill Training Workshop, and was recruited to help clean oiled birds. Knowing they were short on volunteers, Suzanne asked if I could come as well.
We met at Tri-state on Thursday November 8th. I watched a short training video, and then was put to work. Eight Canada geese had just arrived. Together with other volunteers, I held the oiled birds while Tri-State veterinarians Drs. Erica Miller and Charity Uman examined them.
First, we weighed each bird and took its temperature. Feathers provide waterproofing and help regulate a bird’s body temperature. When the feather structure is compromised by oil, it does not provide adequate insulation and the birds and can get dangerously cold. The birds were given fluids to hydrate them. Many were emaciated. The vets took blood and feather samples. They cleaned around the bird’s eyes and beaks. Oil is bad enough on the feathers, but it can also cause chemical burns to the eyes and skin. When ingested, it can damage internal organs.
Before returning the birds to the waiting area, each one was given a temporary leg band and photographed for evidence. With oil spills there are legal considerations. Federal law requires the company that spilled the oil to pay for clean up. I was not permitted to photograph oiled birds because the images would be considered evidence.
Water birds were not the only animals affected by the spill. A large snapping turtle and a little garter snake were also among the incoming patients. Although Tri-state is primarily a bird facility, they treat all oiled wildlife.
Suzanne and I spent the whole day helping to clean enclosures and prepare food for the animals. It was wonderful to see the transformation in the animals after they were cleaned and fed. As their health returned, so did their wild spirits. Many began to groom themselves and interact with each other. Unfortunately, help arrived too late for many animals. Rehabilitating oiled wildlife is challenging. In addition to the oil, other unknown storm water contaminates can add additional complications.
For animals that do survive, there is the matter of where to release them once they have recovered. They cannot be released into an environment where they may become re-oiled. It has been learned from experience that birds released elsewhere often find their way back to their original homes.
Fortunately, many of the turtles and birds affected by this spill have already been released. The oil clean-up efforts are going well. It will take time for the habitat to recover, but the immediate danger of re-oiling has been addressed in many places, allowing wildlife to return to their homes.
This holiday, I give thanks that my town escaped the worst of the hurricane damage. I am thankful to all the people who gave (and continue to give) their time to help the people and animals hurt by the storm. I am also thankful to Tri-State for giving me the opportunity to be a part of the clean-up effort.
If you would like to help wildlife affected by Hurricane Sandy, please consider making a donation to Tri-State Bird Rescue & Research Inc. For more information about Tri-State, oiled wildlife, and what to do if you find at oiled animal, please visit Tri-State’s website.
Owl Moon Raptor Center is excited to announce our second annual calendar! The 2013 calendar features twelve heartwarming stories about Owl Moon’s patients, together with twenty four evocative full-color photographs. Seven talented photographers contributed images to this year’s calendar. We are sure you will be delighted by the beautiful imagery and the stylistic variety! Check out the sneak peak below.
10 great reasons to pre-order your Owl Moon Calendar today!
- 100% of your donation supports care and treatment for injured and orphaned birds of prey.
- Owl Moon is funded completely by donations…so we’d um…really like it if you donated.
- The calendar contains many stories and images that were not featured on the blog.
- Owl Moon calendars make great gifts!
- Do you need a calendar? Do you like awesome birds of prey? You will love this calendar.
- Know someone else who needs a calendar? Do they like awesome birds of prey? They will love this calendar.
- Have a boring empty spot on your wall? You know what’s NOT boring? Birds of prey!
- Need a little inspiration to get you going in the morning? Birds of prey are very motivational (just ask a mouse).
- C’mon! You know you want one.
- Please, please, pleeeeeease buy a calendar!
Calendars are only available while supplies last, so pre-order yours today!
Donate: $25 each or $100 for five
Donations can be made on our Donate page. Owl Moon is not a licensed 501(C)(3), so donations are not tax deductible.
Check out this wonderful article about Owl Moon which was just featured in the Gazette! Thank you to St. John Barnard-Smith for the write-up!
Friday was a busy day! In the morning Lee and I, together with our guests Cynthia and her daughter Orli, released the two Red-shouldered Hawks, Goalie and Cinnamon. Both hawks were returned to where they were found. Goalie, the adult, went first. We found a nice stretch of woodland next to a creek and pond behind Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD. Lee opened the box while I took the video shown below on my phone. Goalie wasted no time in getting through the trees and out of site. We caught another quick glimpse of him as we headed back to our cars, and then he was gone.
Cinnamon was released in the neighborhood in Chevy Chase, MD where he was found. John and his wife Joyanna were there, along with several of their neighbors who participated in Cinnamon’s rescue, including Kathy and Steve. I took Cinnamon out of the box so I could remove a protective “wrist bumper” from his wing prior to release. That gave everyone a close-up view of this beautiful juvenile hawk. Then it was time to send him on his way. Cinnamon didn’t linger. He soared high up to a tree limb in the parkland that backs up to the homes. He surveyed his surroundings briefly, then flew out of sight.
This video shows Cinnamon flying on the creance line. I could tell from his strong flight that he was ready to go.
After I returned home Friday afternoon, I received a visit from Sarah Milbourne. Sarah manages the Scales and Tails Program for MD Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Scales and Tails is an educational outreach program that uses live birds to teach the public about raptors and their place in the ecosystem.
DNR had rescued a juvenile male Barred Owl from entanglement in fishing line at Deep Creek Lake in western Maryland. Fortunately, the owl had not been injured, but the monofiliment line had damaged many of his feathers. Sarah wanted to learn how to repair the owl’s damaged feathers using a technique called “imping”. Imping involves trimming back the damaged feathers and replacing them by inserting a pin between the shaft of the original feather and that of a replacement feather.
We began the imping process on Pumpkin, named in celebration of the season, but it will require more than one sitting to repair all his damaged feathers. Pumpkin will reside at Owl Moon until Sarah and I finish imping. When we are sure Pumpkin’s feathers are healthy, he will return to his home at Deep Creek Lake.
Much has happened since our last update. Fortunately, much of the news is happy, but there is sad news to report as well.
Beastie Boy, the Red-tailed hawk with a fractured hallux (opposing toe) and lacerated shoulder, returned to Second Chance Wildlife Center on September 30th for follow-up x-rays and examination by Dr. Patrice Klein. It was found that the fractured hallux was poorly aligned and has developed a thick callus. The result is that Beastie Boy has lost a functional joint in that toe, which is important for capturing live-prey.
There is hope that, as the bone remodels, some function may return. It is also possible that Beastie Boy will be capable of hunting live prey even with the damaged toe. If that happens, he will be returned to the wild.
With this hope in mind, Beastie Boy was transferred to a Deron Meador, a falconer, for reconditioning and live-prey testing. If Beastie Boy cannot hunt well enough for release, we will find a good home for him as an education bird.
Great Horned Owl
Elmo, the Great Horned Owl with severe tremors (likely caused by West Nile Virus), did not improve. We treated him for ten days with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID). If you saw the video, you will understand we could not let Elmo continue to suffer with these tremors. We made the decision to euthanize him on September 27th.
Now for the happy news! As of the last update, three birds were being reconditioned for release: Bob, an adult Red-shouldered Hawk; Crooked Beak, a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk; and Little Bear, a juvenile Barred Owl. I am pleased to report that all three are now flying free.
Bob was the first to go. He was returned to his home turf (or should I say “home air”?) in a suburban neighborhood in Gaithersburg, MD on October 6th. After making a brief stop on a nearby tree to look around, Bob took off through the next row of trees and quickly disappeared.
Crooked Beak and Little Bear were released on the same day, October 10th. Crooked Beak was a nestling when she came to us, and therefore had never flown free. We decided to release her here at Owl Moon. She is comfortable enough with me that she might return for handouts if she has difficulty making it on her own. This is a technique called “hacking” or “soft release” and we have used it successfully with other juveniles. Crooked Beak was released at 11 am. She landed first on the roof of the mews. She sat there for several minutes scoping out her surroundings, then took flight again, made a semicircle over the back yard and headed straight over the back field and into the woods on the other side. I still have hope of seeing Crooked Beak come around again, but as far as I know, she has not returned. We hope this means she is hunting well on her own.
Little Bear was released at 4 pm, at his home on a Chesapeake Bay tributary in Severna Park, MD. In true Little Bear fashion, he foiled my attempts to photograph his release by flying out of the box and straight into the camera, then over my head and into the trees before I could refocus. I should have known better! Little Bear was always full of mischief and I have confidence that he will outsmart his prey as easily as he outsmarted me.
Great Horned Owl
Cleopatra was transferred to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Center in Newark, Delaware on October 17th, for pre-release conditioning. I wish I could have kept her here and reconditioned her myself, but Owl Moon has only two outdoor mews, and both are currently occupied. It was in Cleopatra’s best interest to seek outdoor space for her with another rehabilitator.
TriState is a superb facility with beautiful big mews (fitting for Cleo), and their staff has generously accepted birds from us on many occasions when they have space. We are grateful to TriState for taking Cleo, and know that she is in the best possible hands. We will return to retrieve her when she is ready for release.
Back at the ranch, the remaining patients are doing well. Zen has quieted down now that Little Bear is gone and he has a mew to himself. Zen’s outer primary feathers have been growing in for several weeks, but the increased activity with two in the mew caused damage to the developing blood feathers and he lost several. They have now begun to regrow, and we intend to keep him solitary until they are fully grown. Then we can give Zen a fair flight assessment, which we hope will demonstrate that he can be released.
Pixie, the juvenile Broad-winged Hawk, and Plato, the juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, are still in rehab, and both are in line for outdoor mews as soon as they become available. Meanwhile, we exercise them on a creance line most days. They enjoy getting out in the sunshine and spreading their wings. Neither is a sure bet for release, but we continue to treat them with that goal in mind.
Summer is showing improvement overall. She (I now think female based on weight) is active and eating well on her own, and most of her CNS symptoms have subsided. However, the visit to Dr. Jennifer Hyman the veterinary ophthalmologist, confirmed that Summer has permanent damage to her right eye. That eye has lost most, if not all, sight.
Many rehabilitators would remove Summer as a release candidate based solely on her impaired vision. My own feelings are mixed. I want Summer to survive. I also firmly believe that the best place for a hawk is flying free in the wild. Our plan is to test fly Summer on a creance line. If she flies well, we will look for a falconer to train her and hunt with her. If she proves to her falconer that she can hunt and avoid obstacles with one good eye, then we will give Summer the chance to make it on her own.
John found the first, on a residential side street in Chevy Chase, MD on October 2nd. We call this juvenile male “Cinnamon” because of his unusual cinnamon-colored plumage. John had observed him standing on the roadside for hours, clearly not normal hawk behavior. He called Owl Moon Raptor Center and we picked Cinnamon up right where John first saw him. We could see some weakness in his left wing when Cinnamon made a half-hearted attempt to escape. Cinnamon later showed us he could indeed fly, but we found an abrasion on the wing near the wrist joint, probably the result of an impact. We cleaned and bandaged the wound and it has since healed completely. Cinnamon has been flown on a creance line for pre-release assessment and conditioning, and while he flies well, there is a slight droop to the injured wing following a workout. We would like to resolve this before we return him to his Chevy Chase home, but we don’t expect that to take long.
The second hawk was found in Jerry’s neighbor’s garage in Upper Marlboro, MD on October 7th. She had apparently crashed through a window and was found inside, weak and unable to stand. Jerry and his neighbors tried to feed and nurse the hawk for two days before they found Owl Moon. With the help of volunteers Matthew and Mandy, who provided rescue and transport services, she made it to Owl Moon. We treated her with fluids for dehydration, and pain and NSAID drugs for severe spinal trauma.
The hawk had respiratory symptoms as well, possibly a result of the trauma. We treated her for this with antibiotics. I took her to Opossum Pike Vet Clinic for x-rays. Dr. Barb could not find a spinal fracture, but her prognosis was guarded. She felt that, if we did not see improvement after four to five days, it was unlikely the hawk would recover from the spinal injury.
After ten days there was very little improvement in her legs. She could not stand and her respiration had worsened. We determined that euthanasia was the kindest option.
Goalie (named for reasons that will become apparent) was transferred to Owl Moon Raptor Center from Second Chance Wildlife Center on October 21st. He was brought to Second Chance on October 18th, following rescue from entanglement in a soccer net at Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, MD. The rescuers (who remain anonymous) untangled him from the net and released him, but Goalie did not fly away.
Second Chance staff could not find any injuries on intake. They kept him on cage rest until their vet, Dr. Pat Klein, could examine him on October 20th. Dr. Klein found no injuries either, and recommended transfer to Owl Moon for flight-testing. Goalie is now in an outdoor mew with Summer and Cinnamon. He flies well in the mew, but is relatively calm and quiet for a Red-shouldered Hawk. We will give him a few more days rest and flight test him on a creance line to be sure he is fit for release. Like Cinnamon, we do not expect to keep him long. We hope he can return home later this week.
It’s hard to believe it, but on October 18th the Owl Moon Raptor Center Blog will be one year old! It’s been a great year too. Since launching, we have shared the stories of OMRC’s patients with over 5000 site visitors in 57 countries! We have learned quite a bit about blogging too. For one thing, it takes a LOT of time. OMRC is the busiest in the spring and summer when young raptors are fledging and leaving the nest. It has been challenging for Suzanne to find time to write in between taking care of all of those birds, so starting this month we are going to try something new. We will give short, frequent updates on patients as they come in and developments occur. As time permits, we will tell longer more in-depth stories. We hope that this new format will make it easier for readers to follow along with the patient stories as they occur.
Without further ado, let’s get to some patient updates!
When last we wrote, Owl Moon was in the process of transferring Zen to Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville, MD. It seemed that his injured elbow would never heal well enough for him to survive in the wild. In the last few weeks, however, Zen has made a surprising amount of progress. After molting his damaged feathers and growing in a full new set, his flight is looking stronger and more even than before. It now seems possible that Zen might be releasable. If not, we will proceed with the transfer to Meadowside. We will give him more time to build his strength and complete his molt before making a determination.
Bob has finally regrown his missing tail feathers, and is currently being reconditioned for release.
In the last post, we introduced you to Crooked Beak, a juvenile red-shouldered hawk with a misaligned beak. Great news! After considerable time and effort, her beak is back in alignment. She is currently being reconditioned in preparation for release.
Little Bear, another newbie from our last post, is also in the process of being reconditioned for release. When birds come to Owl Moon as juveniles it is important for us to test their hunting skills with live prey before returning them to the wild. Little Bear will be released on his home turf and we hope he will reunite with his parents. It is best for young raptors to learn to hunt with parental support, but their instincts are strong, and they can make it on their own.
Eastern Screech Owl
We have decided not to release Henry, the adorable young screech owl featured in last post’s videos. His damaged eye would make him vulnerable to predators in the wild and he would have difficulty hunting without the depth perception that two good eyes offer. The good news is that Henry will make a great education bird once a suitable arrangement is found.
Another patient we introduced last time was Kite, a juvenile osprey found dangling in a tree with his toe caught in fishing line. We are happy to report that Kite’s injuries were minor. He was released where he was found in Edgewater, MD on July 25th. Many onlookers, including some of the firemen who rescued him, came to see him off.
Plato is a new patient at OMRC. He was rescued in La Plata, MD on July 22nd after flying into a window. When Plato arrived, his case looked grim. He suffered spinal compression from the impact. We treated him with NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, with analgesics for pain, for several weeks, while he slowly regained the use of his legs. Plato is now able to stand, perch, and walk, though his legs are weak, and he sometimes rests on his hocks for support and balance. He can also fly. It seems that the spinal trauma affected the use of his legs more than his wings. We cannot yet determine Plato’s chances for a full recovery. His progress thus far is encouraging, but nerve damage can require months to heal, and he may never recover to where he can be released. Unfortunately, Cooper’s hawks do poorly in captivity. If he does not recover fully he will need to be euthanized. We continue to hope.
Eastern Screech Owl
David is another new patient. He is a juvenile male screech owl like Henry, but you will notice they do not look alike. Unlike most owls, screech owls come in two different colors. David is a gray phase screech owl. Henry is a red phase. David was found at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, and brought to Owl Moon on July 31st. He had a soft tissue (muscle and/or nerve) injury in his left wing and the damage appears to be permanent. He is not flying well enough for release at this point. We will seek an education placement for him if his flight does not improve soon.
Pixie is a Broad-winged hawk. He earned his name by charming us with his playful peeping sounds and bouncing around in his cage when he thinks no one is watching. Pixie was found at Catoctin Mountain State Park on August 5th. He wasn’t flying, but he had no visible injuries. X-rays revealed a fractured coracoid. The coracoid is a bone that runs between the shoulder and the breastplate, and it is critical for flying. The bone has since healed, and we just started him flying on the creance line. His flight does not look good at this point, but there is still time for it to improve.
Great Horned Owl
Cleopatra came to Owl Moon on August 18th. She arrived unable to stand, uncoordinated, disoriented and lethargic. The symptoms suggest neurological impairment, probably due to West Nile Virus. Her prognosis looked grim, but day by day she has carried on. In Suzanne’s experience, adult birds seem to fare better against the disease than juveniles, but it is still devastating. Cleopatra is one tough bird though. She has regained her ability to perch, she is eating on her own, and she has her great-horned “attitude” back! Nothing is certain at this point, but her strength is definitely working in her favor.
Summer was found near the Pennsylvania/Maryland border. He came to Owl Moon through a fellow rehabber, David Coppersmith. Summer’s symptoms indicate West Nile Virus. His condition is improving but we are worried that he might be permanently disabled. He eats, but he doesn’t recognize food until it is waved close to his face. His vision may be impaired as a result of the virus. Suzanne has an appointment to take him to the vet for examination. For now he has joined the other red-shouldered hawks in the outdoor mew, but is receiving extra attention.
Beastie Boy was transferred to Owl Moon from Second Chance Wildlife Center on September 7th. He collided with a car when he flew up from a roadside deer carcass he had been feeding on. Second Chance treated Beastie for a deep laceration on his left shoulder and a fractured hallux (back toe) on the right foot. The shoulder wound has healed, but it remains to be determined if he can fly well enough to return to the wild and hunt. We hope so. Beastie is not content to remain idle in his cage while his fractured toe mends.
Lastly, there is Duck. Duck isn’t actually a duck, but he was found in water. He was discovered clinging to the side of a horse trough in Jefferson, MD, on September 7th. He was close to drowning when he was rescued. Duck is another suspected case of West Nile Virus (WNV). He appears off-balance and uncoordinated, and these symptoms of WNV can cause birds to wind up in predicaments they would normally avoid, such as landing in a horse trough. He is receiving Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs, the standard WNV treatment, just in case. He is doing well so far, but it is too early to tell.
Hello, Natasha here!
I am currently visiting my parents and Owl Moon Raptor Center at their home in Boyds. As some of you may know from my blog, I am in the process of moving from Seattle, WA, to New Brunswick, NJ with my husband, Dustin. We have been staying in Boyds for a few weeks while we search for a new apartment.
Suzanne, my mother, wasted no time in putting me to work helping with the raptors. Since I have been here I have helped her administer medications and fluids to several patients, driven two birds to Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research Center in Newark, DE, and sewn protective mosquito-net curtains for the outdoor mews to keep the birds safe from West Nile Virus, not to mention writing this blog!
One of the birds I drove to Tri-State was Sonya, the female Cooper’s hawk that was injured in a collision with a car back in February. Sonya has recovered from her injury, but she needs to show she is capable of catching live prey before she can be released. Sonya’s injury has permanently weakened her leg, so Suzanne canot fly her on the creance line for reconditioning. At Tri-State she will have the opportunity to prove her hunting proficiency while exercising in large outdoor flight cages.
At Owl Moon there are seven patients presently on site. Zen the barred owl is still here. Pending a permit approval, Zen will be transferred to Meadowside Nature Center in Rockville, MD where he will be used for education. There is also a young barred owl we call Little Bear. Little Bear was found orphaned and emaciated. He is healthy now, but he will stay with us until he shows he is capable of hunting on his own, and then be released near where he was found in Pasadena, MD.
Bob, the red-shouldered hawk is re-growing some missing tail feathers. They have started to come in and we are hopeful he will soon be ready for release. In the meantime, he shares a mew with another red-shouldered hawk, Crooked Beak, a fledgling who was found with (you guessed it) a misaligned beak. Her beak is nearly in alignment now, but we cannot release her until we are sure that it will wear properly and not overgrow after she is released.
A fledgling osprey we named Kite arrived on July 20th. Kite was found struggling to free himself from fishing line caught on his toe, on a tree limb 50 feet off the ground. The most recent additions arrived yesterday, July 22. The first is a fledgling male red-shouldered hawk with symptoms of West Nile Virus. He is being treated with anti-inflammatory drugs and fluids. The other new arrival is a fledgling male Cooper’s hawk. He was injured when he flew into a window. Though he does not exhibit any external injuries, he is unable to stand. We will take him to the vet for X-rays on Wednesday.
The most endearing patient is Henry, a fledgling screech owl. Henry came to Owl Moon on May 3rd after falling out of his nest cavity. He sustained an eye injury in the fall resulting in blindness in his right eye. His best chance to learn how to hunt would be with his parents, however, so Suzanne returned him to his nest. Unfortunately, she had to take him back when it seemed his parents had not returned to take care of him. Henry’s future is uncertain. If he shows he can hunt, he will be released. If not, he will be placed as an education bird.
For now Henry is being fostered with an adult screech owl, Root’n Toot’n. While I hope Henry can be released, I know he would make an great education bird also. He has such an endearing personality. Check out these adorable videos of him!
That brings us up to date on the current patients. We look forward to sharing many more stories of patients that have come and gone this busy nesting season in the near future!
The next call concerning a grounded Great Horned Owlet came from Melinda. Her husband, an excavator, had brought home this baby from a job site in Thurmont, MD the night before. He had found it on the ground and observed one of its parents defending it from a hawk before retrieving it. Melinda fed it raw beef that evening and morning, and then had to leave it at home when she went to work. She called Second Chance later that morning and was referred to Owl Moon Raptor Center. When I spoke to Melinda I advised her of my goal to return it to its parents, either in the existing nest or an artificial one. In the interim I would pick it up and take it to Owl Moon where it would receive a complete diet of whole mice. Raw beef may be okay in an emergency, but raptor chicks need the whole animal (including bones and organs), for proper nutrition, and will quickly develop metabolic and developmental problems on a diet of raw beef. Melinda agreed, and when I picked the owlet up she told me she would call me with the address and contact information of the people who owned the property where the owlet was found.
The only word I got back was a text saying that trees were being cut down on the nest site property. The tree cutting explained why the baby ended up on the ground, but it provided no useful information for reuniting this owlet with her parents, which was still a possibility even in light of the tree cutting. Alas, this baby, only two to three weeks of age, was now officially an orphan. She needed a foster nest. An orphan can be placed with other parents as long as the chicks are close in age. The foster parents will care for it as if it is one of their own. This was a problem because it is already late in the nesting season for Great Horned Owls in our area. Most young owls, like Twilight and Gylfie, are already leaving the nest. I put out a call for help to all the birding folks I know. I got a great response, but days passed, and no suitable nest was found. Each passing day increases the risk of a lone young orphan becoming habituated, or worse, imprinted to people. I was taking every precaution to minimize human contact, but I needed to get her with other owls soon, for this baby to have any chance of success in the wild.
Meanwhile, I had visitors! A troop of 12 young Girl Scouts (Brownies) from Iamsville, MD arranged to visit Owl Moon Raptor Center for an ambitious nest-building project. This project was the culmination of a lot of planning and organizing by the girls, and its completion would earn them their Journey Badge. They arrived on Saturday, April 14, in several vehicles, and began unloading the supplies they had gathered and purchased: 12 laundry baskets of camouflage colors, and at least that many trash bags full of green twigs and branches they had clipped from trees and shrubs in their yards. We talked about the need for these nests, and how they would be used to reunite young raptors with their parents. I showed them an example of what we were making, and they went right to work. It is not easy for little fingers to weave twigs through openings in a laundry basket and between other twigs. I was impressed by their strength and determination to do a good job, and persistence to get the job done. We opted to work in teams with parents assisting, and managed to complete seven beautiful nests in only two hours’ time! The girls lined each one with a soft bed of pine needles they gathered and carried from my neighbor’s yard with her consent.
Before we concluded, I showed them photographs of my raptor patients, including the orphaned nestling great-horned owl. I asked the girls to come up with a name for her, and after several great suggestions and discussion, they decided to call her “Journey.” It was the perfect name. The owl was just beginning her life’s journey, as the Brownies were completing their Journey Badge. I told them I hoped Journey would be the first to use one of their nests.
As luck would have it, the very next day fate intervened. I got a call from Second Chance about a baby owl found on the ground in Potomac, MD. When I returned the call I spoke with Lee, who had found it on her front walkway that morning. She was not sure what species of owl she had. As I drove to Potomac, I prayed that it would be a healthy great horned owl, the same age as Journey. Lee led me to a box they had sheltered the owlet in, under a tree in their yard. I held my breath when I looked inside. He could have been Journey’s brother!
We searched for the nest by looking on the ground for the remains of prey, such as bones, fur, and feathers, and owl droppings. It was easy to know when we found it. A good chunk of the nest was on the ground on the driveway below a tall White Pine. Owls don’t build their own nests. Instead they use the old nests of crows and hawks, which are often in pretty poor condition. What remained of this nest was at the top, in the crotch of two large limbs. We scoured the yard, and the remaining nest, for a possible sibling, as there are often two and occasionally three chicks in a brood. None were found. This made for an ideal fostering situation for Journey. We could put her in a nest basket with this owlet, who was named “Alan” by Lee’s daughter, Lily. Alan’s parents would take care of both chicks. We would have to wait until the next evening to put the nest basket in the tree, as it was too late to arrange for Jason and Mike to climb that evening. I took this Alan back to Owl Moon, and introduced him to his new sibling, Journey.
Jason and Mike already had the climbing ropes in place in a tree near the nest tree when Lee Prouty and I arrived the next evening. We had decided against putting the nest basket in the original nest tree because it overhung the paved driveway. The chosen tree overhung the lawn, and would provide a soft landing should one of the owlets come down a second time. Lee (the finder) and her daughters, Lily and Lexi, looked on and took pictures while Ken Smith, a licensed raptor bander, banded both owlets. Then I gave each owlet a parting meal of mice to hold them over until mom and dad took over feeding duties. We proceeded with re-nesting, just as we had done with Twilight and Gylfie. Only with Journey and Alan, who were about three weeks younger, we didn’t worry that they would try to “flee the scene.” They settled into their new nest immediately.
Lee Prouty and I hung around with Lee and Lily until after dark, watching and listening for evidence of the reunion. We heard lots of calling, both adult and juvenile over the next hour or so. Some of the calling was coming from the nest tree, which was an indication that perhaps Alan had a sibling after all. Then we saw an adult fly into the original nest and heard signs of a juvenile responding to a meal, which all but confirmed that we had inadvertently added a third chick to the brood. Great Horned Owls have triplets of their own sometimes, but I would have thought twice had I known in advance. However, under these circumstances, with no good alternative for Journey I probably would have gone ahead anyway. That evening, having just received a meal from me, Journey and Alan were quiet.
Tuesday morning, Lee, Lexi, and Lily were up early, with binoculars on the nest at first light. They “were thrilled to see the wide wingspan of the mother in the new nest attending to her baby, as well as her newly adopted baby!” Alan was back with his parents, and Journey’s new journey had begun!
Its baby season for great horned owls and that means its baby season for Owl Moon too! In the past three weeks I’ve have had four baby great horned owls come through my doors. I know I said last time this was going to be a two part story, but there so much to tell it looks like it’s going to be three parts.
The first baby great horned of the season was a “brancher” from Rockville, MD. A brancher is a baby who has graduated from the nest but is not yet able to fly. In this stage they climb around in the tree branches (hence called “branchers”), building their strength. Branchers often wind up on the ground, and their parents will continue to feed and care for them. Jim discovered the owlet when he arrived home from work on April 3rd. He stepped up onto his deck, and right there in front of him was a baby Great Horned Owl, perched on the railing by his back door. Jim knew what it was because he and his family had been observing them since February, when the pair built their nest.
Jim left the baby undisturbed that evening, but discovered the bird was still there the next morning as he was getting his kids ready for school. Jim was concerned for the owl’s safety, so he contacted Second Chance Wildlife Center, who referred him to me. When I arrived, I first examined the baby owl to make sure it wasn’t injured. Jim’s son named the baby owl “Twilight,” after an owl character from the book series Guardians of Ga’Hoole by Kathryn Lasky. Twilight appeared healthy, so my next objective was to scope out his nest to see if he could be returned to it. Though their parents will tend to them on the ground, in suburbia it is best if you can get branchers back into the nest tree if possible, where they are safe from prowling pets and traffic.
The nest was intact; 80 feet high in a white oak tree, across the ninth green of the Manor Country Club Golf Course in a grove of trees a good distance behind Jim’s house. However, there were two complications. Firstly, the tree was dead. It was not safe to climb to the height of the nest. Second, there was another baby still in the nest. This was problematic because at the branching age siblings can be spooked out of the nest when a climber approaches to put the other baby back. For the safety of the climber and Twilight’s sibling, we decided to build a replacement nest rather then put Twilight back in the original.
I built a new nest in a laundry basket with the help of Jim’s son, his wife Georgeann, and my friend Lee (also a wildlife rehabber). Owl Moon’s “re-nesting” partners, Mike Fried and Jason Beach of Comprehensive Tree Care, were prepared to take on the job.
Our standard re-nesting procedure goes like this. First, we consult with the climbers to scout the best accessible location for the new nest. Preferably we choose a place in the same tree as the original nest, but a neighboring tree can suffice for older babies. Then, Mike sets up the ropes and Jason climbs to the new nest site. We tie the nest basket to the ropes, along with tools to mount it to the tree, and send it up. With the nest mounted, Jason sends the rope down for the baby. We place the baby in a soft cooler or 5-gallon bucket covered with a towel, tie this to the rope, and send it up to Jason. Jason carefully removes the baby and places it in the nest, from below the nest if possible. Out of sight, he waits quietly to make sure the baby settles in before descending to the ground.
The whole procedure went off without a hitch. We left that evening with Twilight safely back in his nest tree, sixty feet up in a cozy basket. His sibling was twenty feet above him in the original nest. One of the parents, who had been watching us from a distance as we worked, flew in to join the sibling in the original nest just as we were packing up to leave after dark.
The whole thing had gone perfectly, so I was surprised when I received a call the next morning from Randy, Head of Greens at Manor Country Club, telling me there was a baby owl on the ground at the golf course. When we arrived, we discovered that is was not Twilight this time, but his sibling who had come down. Twilight was still where we left him, perched on the side of the nest basket.
Both owlets coming down in such quick succession without any foul weather involved was an indication that maybe they were near enough to being fully fledged to be on the ground. As mentioned above, in the normal course of an owls’ maturation, and with great horned owls in particular, the babies often spend time on the ground between branching and being fully flighted. Their feathers provide camouflage, and their parents will lead them to cover, feed them, and defend them against predators. My concern was that their home was a golf course, with very little cover, no limbs low on the trees, and lots of golfers.
We decided to try putting Twilight’s sibling, which Jim’s son named “Gylfie” after another owl character in the series, into the nest basket with Twilight. It was risky because we would be disturbing Twilight, who had settled in nicely, but it seemed worth the risk to get Gylfie up out of harms’ way. The plan was set for the next morning. Lee and I arrived early to give Gylfie some food and fluids prior to re-nesting since it would be evening before her parents would feed her. Jason and another Mike, Mike Rice, arrived and set up the ropes, just as they had done two nights before.
The problems began at the critical moment when Jason went to put Gylfie in with Twilight. Unfortunately, Twilight had settled on the basket perch closest to where Jason was forced (by the way the tree was configured) to approach. He would need to get past Twilight to get Gylfie into the basket. Jason’s approach was slow and careful, but the disturbance was too much, and both owlets flew from the nest.
The key word here is “flew.” These two youngsters were so close to being fully fledged, that they managed to fly a good distance before landing on the ground. Granted, theirs were not the smoothest of landings, with one rolling head over heels, but both were fine. We decided to try again. This time, with both owlets together and a towel to cover the basket until they settled down, we stood a better chance of success.
It was not to be. Gylfie flew out a second time when Jason removed the towel. Again, she landed fine. Without having an alternative solution to protect these babies on the busy golf course, we made one final attempt. It proved futile. In the end, we left Twilight in the basket, and Gylfie in the safest place we could get her to stay put; the richly-landscaped backyard of James and Georgeann.
We returned at dusk, hoping to get Gylfie into the lower branches of the trees. Gylfie, however, was not to be found. We learned that the landscape maintenance crew had come through that day, and the disturbance undoubtedly sent Gylfie into a neighboring yard. The fact that we didn’t find her does not mean that she was in danger, however. She was following the normal course of events for a growing owl. She was big enough and a strong enough flyer to face the world with the help of her parents, who were no doubt standing by. She made up her own mind; it was time to leave the nest. Among the greenery in the yards surrounding the golf course, there is plenty of vegetation in which a young owl can hide. With their strong talons and wings to propel them, young owls can even climb the trunks of trees like a cat, and get themselves into the lower branches.
Two days later, Twilight left his nest basket and presumably joined Gylfie. James or Georgeann have not seen them since, but we know Gylfie and Twilight have two healthy parents looking out for them. Their parents will keep them in cover, and continue to feed and watch over them. Sometimes you just have to trust Mother Nature.