When lives are at stake, a global pandemic, park closures, and angry owl moms will not keep us from our mission! This is especially true when those lives are fluffy baby great horned owls!
What started with a simple voicemail turned into a full on rescue mission, one we’ve dubbed Operation Owl. On April 2, just as our clinic team was about to head home they realized that they had a voicemail on the clinic cell phone. There were a couple of young owls grounded in a Jackson county Park. The parents of these two owls were dive bombing their attempted rescuer as they protected their babies. Left on the ground the helpless owlets would be easy picking for any predator. Knowing the park was closed because of Covid-19 restrictions, our team called to make sure we could go in and check out the situation.
Within an hour, three staff members and a volunteer arrived at the park, passed the gate and headed in search of the owls. Before long, they located two small balls of fluff among the leaf litter. It appears the chicks accidentally fell from their nest above as they are two young to start fledging – or learning to fly by leaping from the next. The team examined the birds and found they were in good condition, well fed, and alert – with no need to come into the clinic. The only thing of concern was that there were ants on them – a sign that they had been on the ground for a while. The parents watched from a safe distance as we brushed off their chicks. There’s no doubt our presence of four humans was enough to prevent the previous dive bombing attempts.
With the knowledge that attentive parents were nearby the crew brought materials to attempt to renest the birds. Climbing the tree with a laundry basket filled with pine needles in hand, we secured a makeshift nest between two branches. Once their new home was secured, one by one the chicks were handed up and nestled in for the night. We were quite confident that the parents would return as soon as we left the area to take care of their young, but just to be sure we headed back a couple of days later to check. If we had found the chicks lethargic and passive it would have been a good indicator that the parents had been spooked off. However, to our delight we found wide eyed, alert, responsive baby owls that were not very happy to see us again.
Five days after we first found the owlets we peeked in to see how they were doing. We got a definite answer to whether mom was helping or not. Inside the nest we found dinner… or what was left of it… and we certainly didn’t cook! We also posted a sign in case anyone happened to be wandering through the park (despite it being closed!) and notice the laundry basket.
We checked periodically over the following three weeks. Each time we found two happy (angry) owls who were clearly growing and maturing exactly as they should. This week we checked for the last time because we found what we had been waiting for…