A departure from our usual songbirds! A young great horned owl gets help from a songbird sanctuary!
Early evening this summer I received a call from a concerned citizen about a young great horned owl at a Park in Southington. She told me the bird was right next to a busy sidewalk in a lit up area with people and dogs about. By the time I arrived dusk had come. Using kevlar gloves to protect my hands from the birds large talons I picked the bird up and began to look for the nest. The trees in the area were all very mature evergreens with no lower branches even remotely in reach by the largest of ladders. As we continued to search for signs of the rest of the family finally I heard the call of another young owl and sure enough in comes mom or dad to feed.
As I prepared to head over to that area to reunite the young owl in my arms the concerned citizen told me the bird had been in the same spot for about 4 days. I went back to where I picked the owl up and could only find one dropping and one pellet which led me to believe that the busy area may have deterred the parents from coming in to feed their baby. It was very hot and humid so concern for dehydration and the possibility of an injury that kept the young owl from moving helped me make the decision to bring it back to the sanctuary for the evening.
First thing the following morning I brought the young owl to Kensington Bird and Animal Hospital where they tube fed electrolytes for hydration and examined the bird for injuries. The owl was giving a clean bill of health and besides being extremely hungry was good to head back to his nest site. On my way back from the vet I stopped at Petco and bought 8 adult froze mice. Thank god I could purchase them already dead as this songbird rehabilitator usually deals with nothing bigger than live insects and occasionally small fish.
Once the mice had thawed I prepared to feed an owl for the first time In my career! Wow are they good eaters! This young owl didn't hesitate when he saw the mouse in my tongs and lunged and swallowed in seconds. I continued to offer mice until the bird could not swallow anymore down. Which was all EIGHT!
With a full stomach I left the owl to rest for the remainder of the day in a flight cage with a promise that I would be back to reunite with its family later in the day. Once late afternoon came I placed the owl back in a carrier and transported it back to the Park. I wanted to arrive with plenty of daylight to see if I could locate where the birds nest sight was. With the help of Melissa and Adrian Baston I headed back to the area where I heard its sibling calling and easily found the nest at the wood edge in the crotch of a large deciduous tree. It was easy to see by all the carcasses that the young owls had been well provided for by their parents.
With a ladder we easily reached the nest and placed the owl back in. It immediately jumped out landing in a large leaf pile for a soft landing. The pile of leaves was of course in a bramble thicket which made for a painful walk in and out after retrieving the frightened owl I tried again. This time I stayed holding the owl in the nest for several minutes waiting for it to calm down and adjust to its new surroundings. I did not expect it to stay in the nest but was hoping it would at least stay in the tree climbing about on the branches.
This time when I released the bird it stayed put. We watched from a distance and minutes later an adult owl flew in and landed in the nest tree. Success! I headed home happy and relieved to have helped the young owl reunite with its parents and happy to have had the experience of caring for a young owl short term.
My relief was short lived! The next day I recieved a call that the owl was back by the sidewalk again. I wasn't able to get there until after dusk. Armed with a flashlight I search the area but was unable to find it. I stayed and listened for awhile and soon could hear two separate babies calling from the wooded area far away from people and pets so reassured all was well I went home.
The next evening I went out again and I could not find the either bird but could hear them calling and felt confident that all was going well. A reporter was present from the Record journal that day and went back to see if he could locate the birds and found the two young owls side by side finally together in a tree. Happy ending!