Juvenile Great Horned Owls

Sheltered in: Second Chance Wildlife Center

Owls are always the first birds to build nests and lay eggs each year. Their nesting activity often begins in February and March; that means that typically the first baby birds that Second Chance Wildlife Center rescues each year are owls.

Second Chance Wildlife Center in Gaithersburg, Maryland, takes in about 3,000 injured, ill, and orphaned wild animals each year. Under the care of a veterinarian and two licensed master wildlife rehabilitators, the animals are given medical treatment and species-appropriate supportive care until they have recovered or matured and are capable of surviving on their own in the wild. The center houses a fully equipped surgery suite, a veterinary pharmacy, and a variety of indoor and outdoor enclosures for their patients.

One year, the first-of-the-year nestling was a fuzzy baby Great Horned Owl, who came to our center from a golf course in the District of Columbia. Hungry and dehydrated, but otherwise unhurt, the young owl quickly devoured several thawed mice before he was given sub-cutaneous fluids and put in a quiet cage for a long nap.

Knowing that it would be best to get him back to his family, the center enlisted the aid of fellow rehabilitators from Owl Moon Raptor Center, who went to the golf course and found two more baby owlets ? siblings of our owl patient ? under a tall pine on the course. The nest they had been using had been destroyed by high winds, but according to a caretaker who worked at the course, the owl parents had not abandoned their babies. He had seen them feeding the little ones on the ground and had even been attacked by one of the parents when he approached for a closer look.

The two new owls were brought to the center for a thorough examination, which revealed that they were healthy young owls. A few days later all three were brought back to the golf course, together with an artificial nest, consisting of a plastic laundry basket with sticks woven through the holes and lined with leaves and pine needles, a volunteer rock climber and two wildlife rehabilitators, one from Second Chance and one from Owl Moon. The golf course employee offered to help, too, and brought a 30-foot extension ladder to the tall pine where the original nest had been.

The rock climber had no trouble scaling the tree to a point where the trunk branched off in several directions, making a convenient frame in which to place the laundry basket nest. Next, one of the rehabbers climbed the ladder to join him, and together they fixed the new nest in its place, while the other rehabber transferred the baby owls to a soft cooler bag in which they could be hoisted to their new home.

This operation was soon completed and the babies were left to re-unite with their parents, who were no doubt watching the whole operation from a safe distance. In case the waiting period proved to be a longish one, the rehabbers left a supply of thawed mice for their former wards.

Just to be sure, one of the rehabbers returned a couple days later to make sure that the re-union had happened as planned, and she saw that the adult owls had indeed returned and resumed their parental duties.

Re-nesting is not always possible, and many of the baby birds and other orphans that Second Chance receives have to be raised by the staff. If care is taken to prevent the animals from imprinting on their human substitute parents, these animals can be safely released to the wild when they are mature and skilled enough to fend for themselves. But where re-nesting or fostering with surrogate wild parents is an option, the center prefers to take this approach.


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