Whooo wants to help an owl?

We often get calls at Peace River Wildlife Center from frantic folks requesting that we do something to help an injured or orphaned wild animal.  Once an animal has been transported to PRWC, the rehabilitation specialists can treat the injured, ill and orphaned.  We do what we can for every animal in distress, but are sometimes limited in our ability to leave the Center to go on rescues ourselves, leaving all of the critical patients in the hospital unattended.  Some of our favourite callers do not demand that we do something, they want to know what they can do.

George and Betty Phillips are new to the Port Charlotte area.  When a recent storm dislodged a great horned owl nest from the top of a tree, the Phillips found a very large baby bird on the ground in their back yard.  Uncertain what to do, they called PRWC—always the right answer to the “What now?” question.

Operations manager, Callie Stahl, lead the Phillips through a series of questions to ascertain what the situation was.  She then gathered the necessary gear and went to their house to check on the baby.  Luckily he was not injured, but he was too young to be on the ground.  The parents were still in the area, but would not be able to get the youngster back up into the tree by themselves.  Since the nest was destroyed and had been located at the top of a very tall tree, a make-shift nest was constructed using a donated plastic laundry basket.  Holes were drilled into the bottom to allow rain to pass through.  A cushion of grass and twigs were placed in the basket for the baby to grasp onto.  The basket was then screwed into the tree at the highest point possible and the baby was placed in his new “nest.”

All of this was accomplished under the stern gaze of two very concerned adult great horned owls.  If you ever felt intimidated by having a strict teacher looking over your shoulder while you completed an assignment, you may have an inkling of what it feels like to have your progress monitored by some of Mother Nature’s fiercest predators.  But these disciplinarians have talons instead of rulers.

The great renesting escapade of the great horned owl was a success.  Although the baby did not stay in the “nest” long, he has branched out into the tree where he was placed, as expected.  Fledgling song birds will naturally spend some time on the ground as they grow flight feathers and strengthen their wing muscles in preparation for full flight.  Their parents will attend them on the ground, assisting with feeding and driving off predators.  Raptors, like great horned owls, do not usually spend time on the ground.  They do what is called “branching,” as the fledglings leave the nest and grip the branches of the tree in which their nest is located.  As they get stronger and bolder, they wander farther and farther away from the nest, eventually hopping from branch to branch, until finally taking flight.

PRWC would like to join a grateful great horned owl family in welcoming the Phillips family to Charlotte County and thank them for their invaluable assistance in rescuing this young fledgling.  It is always a pleasure to work with people who are concerned about the environment and willing to go the extra mile to help out wildlife.

by – Robin Jenkins, DVM