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Helping an orphaned owl get successfully adopted

Living the Wild Life

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Sheena Patel with the Teton Raptor Center

After returning home from a quick trip to Utah last Saturday, my phone message light was blinking. Not enough people leave messages, but this one was important enough for them to leave one.

“We are the Teton Raptor Center (TRC) in Wilson, Wyoming, and are looking for an active nest of young Great-horned owls to place an orphaned baby in,” the voice on the message said. “Several people alerted us to your article in East Idaho News about nesting Great-horned owls and we would love for you to give us a call.”

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I quickly answered the call to Sheena Patel, a young lady that is in charge of the rehab for injured or orphaned birds at the center. In our discussion of three nests of the seven that I have been watching from a distance, we decided on one nest with two owlets with a very active pair of parents would be an ideal site. We set Monday afternoon for Sheena and a video person to follow me to the nest.

The baby owl had been found inside a home garage in Idaho Falls and had been placed in a tree where it sat for three days. With no apparent feeding or care from an adult, the TRC picked up the bird on May 4, and was placed with an adult owl who cared for the fledging for six days.

Sheena Patel with the Teton Raptor Center

“We examined the bird and found that it was not injured and was healthy,” said Patel. “We are especially careful in the treatment of young birds, in order to assure their wildness and survival. We limit human interaction as much as possible. The young bird was fed in silence, by someone in full camouflage, including face netting and elbow high gloves.”

When we got to the nest area, Patel took the bird out of a fully covered enclosure, wrapped it up in a towel as it snapped its beak to show its displeasure and tried to attack her gloved hands. As we placed the ladder up to the nest holding the other two owlets, the Mom flew into a neighboring tree, gave us a warning “hoot” and kept snapping its beak at us.

Patel climbed the ladder with the bird and placed it in the nest as the other young owls looked on from behind a limb. Syler Peralta-Ramos, the video camera operator, documented the whole operation as I steadied the ladder for Patel.

The orphaned owlet sat on the front of the nest while the other two cowered away at the back of the nest. We quickly moved away from the nest to allow the birds to become acquainted.

After Patel and Peralta-Ramos left, I found a spot about a hundred yards away to watch the nest. It took about 15 minutes for the three babies to become acquainted and to snuggle together. An hour later both adults visited the nest with the male bringing a rodent for an afternoon snack for them. Two days later I returned to the nest and found all three young-uns sitting on limbs around the nest; the adopted one, wearing a silver leg band, was in the middle of the other two.

Sheena Patel with the Teton Raptor Center

“Baby bird season is upon us,” said Patel. “After young Great-horned owls leave their nest, they are referred to as “fledglings” and will spend up to two weeks on the ground before they are able to fly. Parents will continue to care for and feed their healthy young during this time. Sometimes a well-intentioned human may notice a young bird on the ground and intervene and human intervention will discourage parents from feeding in the presence of humans. This is often fatal to wild birds.”

Patel would like to remind all people as they enjoy the outdoors that if they come upon any young animal or bird, “do not attempt to move, feed, or otherwise care for it until you have spoken to a wildlife professional.”

I will continue to monitor this nest from a distance, but so far, the nest seems to be a happy home for all five birds and the adopted one does not appear to be too big of a burden for the parents.

If you find an injured or abandoned young animal you can contact the Teton Raptor Center at (307) 203-2551, to get information on how and who to contact.

Sheena Patel with the Teton Raptor Center