Great Horned Owlet Reunited

Great Horned Owlet Reunited May 26, 2021

Watch as volunteer arborist James Reed places our young Great Horned Owl in her new nest. Video by James Reed

Reunited and it feels so good!

This young Great Horned Owl is showing his threat display as our team opens his enclosure to do the reunite. Photo by Melanie Piazza

WildCare and our dedicated volunteers will go to any lengths to make sure our wild patients get the best possible care.

When this young Great Horned Owl came to WildCare after having fallen from his nest high in a eucalyptus tree, our first thought was that he would need medical care. How could he not be injured after his long fall?

But a thorough physical exam and x-rays showed that, indeed, somehow he had made it to the ground without injury. In addition, the exam revealed good body weight and hydration, both indications that this baby's parents were taking good care of him.

This owlet was an excellent candidate for a reunite, but getting him home again would require the very specialized skills of volunteer arborist, James Reed.

When reuniting a nestling, finding the nest is often a challenge, so Raptor Reunite volunteers do some reconnaissance to confirm the presence of the parent birds while the bird receives medical care at WildCare.

We are so grateful for our Raptor Reunite team! Not only is it better for both the owlet and the parent owls to have the youngster back in their care, WildCare's Wildlife Hospital benefits tremendously from a successful reunite too.

Raising a Great Horned Owl in care takes approximately two months, during which the owlet would need a large aviary space, and five to ten mice per day. Just feeding this baby costs approximately $5 a day, which means a feeding bill of $300 alone. And, of course, we couldn't let the baby grow up alone, so we would have to find an age-appropriate match, probably from another wildlife care center, which would double the cost. An owlet in care also needs enrichment, and the opportunity to learn to hunt... both things his parent owls easily provide, but that are challenging in a captive care situation.

Fortunately, our owl patient was perfectly healthy, but the reality of how lucky he was to have survived became obvious to rescuers when they approached the bottom of the massive eucalyptus tree where the parent owls had been spotted.

Despite heavy winds causing the huge branches to swing alarmingly, James scaled the 100+ foot eucalyptus in just a few minutes and scouted around for the nest in the topmost branches.

No matter which side the arborist opens, the Great Horned Owlet is watching him! Photo by James Reed

A few remaining sticks showed the former location of the nest, and helped explain why our owlet had ended up on the ground.

Not to worry, however! James and our Raptor Reunite Team had a wicker basket ready to serve as a replacement nest. James used wires to firmly attach the basket to the tree.

He then alerted the team members on the ground that he was ready for the bird. They tied the carrier box the owlet was in to the bottom of the rope, and James pulled him up.

Even young owls and hawks have sharp talons and beaks, and reaching into a box to gently remove the young raptor is one of the most challenging parts of the reuniting arborist's job. This moment is further complicated by the fact that owls can turn their heads an astonishing 270 degrees. No matter which side of the box he opened, the owlet was always looking at James and clacking his beak!

James finally managed to contain the owl, gently extracted him from the box, and set him in the wicker basket, but, as with youngsters of any species, this owl wasn't going to just sit quietly where he was placed!

The young owl is a "brancher," meaning he's at the age where he hops out of the nest and starts stretching his wings and hop-flying to nearby branches. James had to recapture the owlet as he tried to hop out, wanting him to remain in the nest while he descended to minimize the risk of the owlet falling again.

After gently pulling down his climbing ropes, James and the other rescuers left the tree to further reduce stress on the owl family. Now it was up to the parent Great Horned Owls to find and feed their prodigal child, and the responsibility of Raptor Reunite Team spotters to keep an eye out and make sure the baby was being fed and attended.

At last check, the parents were feeding both this owlet, and his sibling who had also jumped and taken a brief, round trip to WildCare.

Reuniting really DOES feel so good!

Our third attempt at reuniting this young Great Horned Owl will happen this evening, but she needs to be fed in the meantime. In this video our team tweezer-feeds her pieces of mouse, cut to bite-sized pieces.

The Great Horned Owl after her feeding makes herself look big to encourage our team to leave her enclosure. We did! Photo by Alison Hermance

A Big Year for Great Horned Owl Reunites

WildCare's Wildlife Hospital has treated and reunited seven young Great Horned Owls in 2021. This is a record!

Not only has arborist James Reed done those seven climbs, several of our reunites have needed more than one attempt because the young birds decides to leap from the nest or branch on which James has placed him, returning to the ground. Our Raptor Reunite Team has been busy!

The young owlet in the video above is in care preparing for her third renesting attempt this evening. She glided down from the branch James placed her on yesterday evening, landing on a nearby roof, where a flock of crows spotted her.

Crows will mob raptors of any age, and a non-flighted baby is very much at risk for injury if crows attack.

The parent owls can fend off crows to protect their owlets, but a reunite attempt requires the parent birds to acknowledge and being caring for their returned baby, which can take minutes or hours. Tonight's attempt will happen after dark to mitigate corvid involvement. Cross your fingers this evening's reunite attempt works!

Donate now to help us care for these owlets, and all the animals in our care!