Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Owl's Well that Ends Well

By Simba Blood - photos courtesy of Anita Jader & Dana Larson-Ramsay

A baby owlet trying to look fierce
after tumbling from its nest.
The LEAP (Landscape Ecology Awards Program) team met the evening of March 29th to work through some design ideas for our next generation award signs (stay tuned for further developments!). After a lively, fun and productive meeting, our crew began to filter out. As we were cleaning up the last bits of debris from the evening, Gail Acosta’s cell phone rang.

“No! Oh no! Oh, that’s too bad!” she exclaimed. Of course we all crowded around to support Gail in whatever this dire news was. “My neighbor Aimee found a baby owl on the ground. Poor thing! What do we do?”

Fortunately this predicament did not flummox our fearless leader, Dana Larson-Ramsay, in the slightest. Dana is the manager of the HB Fuller Wildlife Preserve and an experienced naturalist. “It’s got to be a baby great horned owl. They start hopping out onto branches long before they are ready to fly. Scott & I have rescued them before.”

Dana put in a call to her husband Scott, a naturalist at the Wood Lake Nature Center, and went off to find some sturdy gloves. The remaining LEAP team members - Gail, Anita Jader & I - all filed out and rendezvoused at Gail’s home, excited for the opportunity to see (and photograph) an owlet.

Scott Ramsay securely fastens a bushel
basket to a tree to serve as a nest for the owlet.

Gail’s neighbor Aimee led us to a little open woodland behind their homes. At the base of a tree we found the fluffy adorable owlet, trying desperately to look fierce. We all stood a respectful distance away, worrying a bit for the youngester and taking many photos. Dana and Scott arrived within moments and began organizing the rescue. Gail was tasked with finding a bushel basket to serve as a nest, while Aimee’s father Jerry produced a sturdy stepladder. After some debate, a friendly white cedar was selected as the appropriate spot for the owlet’s new home. Scott filled the basket with a nice bed of wood chips and oak leaves, and scampered up the ladder to anchor the nest in place.

Then came the moment we’d all been anticipating (a bit fearfully on my part). Scott donned the leather gloves and headed in for the rescue. The little owlet hissed, and clacked his beak, but did not even hop away as Scott picked him up and tucked the baby into his arms. He settled right in and seemed quite comfortable.

The owlet is ready to be moved
to the new nest.

We all had to take the opportunity to pet the owl, and snap many more photos.

Left: Scott holds the baby owlet as Aimee and her sons, father Jerry, and Gail Acosta take a closer look. Right: A rare shot of Anita Jader on the other side of the camera.

Left: I had to take my turn too. Right: Dana and Scott - proud owl godparents.

As we were occupied in this pleasant task, we noticed two adult owls flying about in the area, landing in nearby trees and keeping an eye on us. That seems to be a good indicator that they would find their relocated offspring and continue to care for him, as turned out to be the case.

An adult owl observes
the rescue mission.

Dana took charge of the nestling while Scott once again climbed the ladder. The owlet was settled into his new home, and we all indulged in a few verbal high-fives and trundled off ourselves, hopeful for the young owl’s chances of success.

We received this update from Dana the following day:


“I talked to Gail this afternoon...the Mom (could be either parent owl) went to the new nest/bushel basket as soon as we left yesterday, climbed in with the owlet and stayed in the new nest all night and morning. The Dad (or other parent) was seen by Gail's next door neighbor catching something on the ground behind the trees this morning and he brought it to the nest for the Mom to feed to the baby! He flew over and checked on them several times. We were concerned about the cold rain last night and that the baby would be sheltered by a parent and it was! (The cedar tree branches above it help too.) All is well with the rescued baby.”

Two weeks later, Anita stopped by Gail’s, borrowed a stepladder and took this shot of the much more mature owlet peeking up from his nest. Gail reported he was out of the nest often, and particularly liked hopping about on the branch just above his nest.

Two weeks after being placed back in the tree, the owlet as matured
and settled in to his human-made nest.

He has now fully fledged and abandoned his human-provided home. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to pet an owlet and learn more about great horned owls. If you ever come across a stranded owlet, it’s definitely a bonus to have a couple of professional naturalists and a photographer to share the experience with!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for taking the time to rescue this Great Horned Owl Baby. Now I know what to do if I come across one - they still have habitat in a couple of places here on the East side of Saint Paul and we have counted them on the Audubon Christmas Bird Count here. I have seen one peaking over the edge of a hawk's nest but the pictures you took give me and my husband Paul a much better look at them than we would otherwise get. They are fascinating, and I see them as the important top predators of a city...keeping the bunnies and mice in check. Kathy Sidles