No, not ‘our owl’. Since last year, Scott and I became volunteers at The Center for Birds of Prey. We are officially members of the Renesting Program. We are on call to renest birds of prey chicks that have fallen out of the nest.
Great Horned Owls are the first of the nesting season for birds of prey. The Center got a call on Tuesday, March 17th, that there was a baby owl on the ground. And we got the call. Our first ‘mission’!
I am embarrassed to tell you that I went to the reported area and could not find a chick anywhere! I look and look. No chick. I call Joe, the guy that reported it while walking his dog, to get an exact location. I am in the right place. No chick. An adult parent is clacking whenever I get close to a particular tree.
Kind of like that old game of Hide the Button – getting warmer, no getting cool, colder. Adult clacking means I am close. No warning sounds mean I am really cold. The area around the tree that elicits the most warning alerts from an adult owl is full of all kinds of interesting evidence: a headless baby squirrel, three adult squirrel tails, owl pellets and lots of white poop.
But no chick. I listen. I am quiet. My first assignment and I cannot find the chick! I knock on doors. Explain. Leave notes on doors of ‘not at home’ nearby residents with my contact information. I go home defeated.
Four hours later, Joe calls back. The chick is sitting out in the open, pretty much exactly where he told me he saw it that morning. By now, Scott is home and we gather our gear and head out. Joe has recruited a neighbor kid to stand watch until we get there.
Sure enough. A Great Horned Owlet is just sitting there next to a pine tree, out in the open, in total and complete site!
Scott and I confer. There is no visible nest. And this chick is developed beyond the nestling stage. It is a Brancher but not able to fly yet. I examine it as best as I know how. I hold its talons and unfold its wings, one at a time. All looks good. The chick is amazingly compliant. An adult owl is clacking its beak but from a safe distance.
Scott and I decide to place it in a large Live Oak Tree. We get permission from the homeowner. We put the chick in a bucket, Scott sets up the ladder to reach a crotch (or nook) in the tree, about 20 feet high. We discovered last year that a bucket was the most expedient and safest way to carry a chick up a ladder – for all involved. I explain to neighbors that have gathered to watch what and why we are doing this and also what to expect. And give everyone our contact information.
What we expect: this will not be the one and only time we are in this location. We know from our experience from last year (with ‘our owls’) that this will most likely be the first time, not the last.
Not too secure looking. As, ahem, now that we are ‘professional renesters’, we are not supposed to attribute human feelings or characteristics (anthropomorphism) to our feathered creatures. BUT clearly, this chick does not look too happy. We pack up our gear and watch from a distance with binoculars. Parent owl communicating with chick by hooting softly. Chick is silent.
Looking a little more relaxed now. And safe. This is all we can do. As Joe texted when I gave him an update, “I would say that young owl had the luck of the Irish on its side today.” Indeed.
But that is not the end of the story of our first mission. Followers of this blog from last year’s adventures will recognize that there is almost always another chapter. Stay tuned!
Special thanks to Joe for his diligence in reporting this fallen chick and following up on its status to make sure it was safe and secure. And to the neighbors Rachel, Emily, Elizabeth and others for whom I do not have all their names. Thank you!
Preview of next blog: Same location, different chick!