Not every wild animal in distress is brought to the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter in Newport, NC and that, in some instances, is a very good thing. Field work occasionally happens for the volunteers and staff who work there. Let’s take at look at the example that occurred last month. A gentleman called stating a baby owl was on the ground in his yard, close to the base of a tree, and he could see the Mother Owl on a branch in a neighboring tree. This was late in the evening and action had to be taken before dogs, cats or wild night time predators were out and about. We headed to the residence around seven with enough equipment to create a makeshift nest (a basket) and hoist the baby back up the tree so Mom could continue to care for him until ready to fledge. The white ball of fluff was easy to spot on the dark tree trunk and definitely not capable of flying his way out of this mess.
Although, his Mom, a very large Barred Owl, was still monitoring the situation and would surely try to fend off possible attackers, how long she could keep that up and how successful she would be averting a disastrous outcome were in question. The solution was hardly simple, but none the less, we had to get the baby as high up the tree as possible. The tree was extremely tall and there were no limbs for the first thirty to forty feet from the ground. We agreed that roping a basket and throwing the weighted, loose end of the rope over a limb close to the trunk was the best way to hoist the new nest carrying the baby owl up the tree and out of harm’s way. Getting the basket ready to hoist was a little tricky but proved to be the easiest part of the mission. Momma Owl did not object as we placed the infant Barred Owl in the basket lined with twigs and grasses, however, something soon started stirring at the end of a limb overhead. At first, I thought it might be the adult owl coming in for a closer look at what we were doing, which made me a little nervous because I forgot my hardhat. It was dark now so I used my flashlight to scan the rustling area of the tree and found another baby Barred Owl hanging upside down by one foot.
His talons had grabbed a wad of leaves during his fall that he clutched for dear life, because he could not pull himself back up. We held a sheet under the baby and waited for the fall. A half hour later, we began thinking he might just be able to hang there all night. Every time he moved, struggled or spun, his talons, thankfully, tore the leaves just a little. In another fifteen minutes, the leaves finally tore through, and he tumbled through the air and into the sheet positioned for a soft landing. That baby owl was placed securely in the basket with his sibling and hoisted up the tree about fifty feet.
Mom watched the whole rescue operation play out and never displayed any aggression. We tied off the rope at the base of the tree and headed for home, a little tired, but proud we had been able to keep the family together. Early the next morning I went to the “Barred Owls down” residence to ensure our rescue efforts had been effective, and the babies were still safe. They weren’t. Both infant owls were out of the basket, and at that moment, one was on the ground, puffed up and facing off two neighbor dogs. I scooped them up and placed them in a kennel cab. Although at this age they are considered “branchers” and can crawl around in a tree by using their beak and talons, they were not sticking with the program by staying in the tree. They now had to go to the wildlife shelter. It happens that way sometimes. We set up the best case scenario for the family to stay together, but they just don’t cooperate. Owl parents usually care for their young for at least four months, but unfortunately risk factors made this particular case impossible. The babies are doing fine at the Outer Banks Wildlife Shelter, enjoying a safe haven and growing fast. Our permanent resident Barred Owl, Dinah, is fostering the two rambunctious youngsters.
Author of “Save Them All”
President, Wildlife Rehabilitators
of North Carolina, Inc. (WRNC)