Blog Archive March 2011

Owls Don’t Build Nests

Posted on 30 March 2011 by Dawn Keller

“A Great Horned Owl baby is on the ground” the caller said. From the description, the bird was clearly a nestling and far too young to be on the ground.

Mom and Dad owl were attentively watching over the baby from nearby trees. Hoping that Mom or Dad wouldn’t hit me as I approached the baby, I leaned over and picked it up while John, the homeowner, kept me advised of Mom and Dad owls’ position, ready to warn me if either parent flew towards me to protect the baby.

The nest site as seen from the ground

A quick physical exam showed no injuries and a baby owl in excellent weight and condition. A look at the nest sight showed that it was only about 25′ high and should easily be accessible by ladder. We put the baby owl in a safe and warm location while we propped an extension ladder against the tree. I climbed the ladder and looked into the nest. The nest was nothing more than some leaf litter and a large cottontail – apparently last night’s dinner – lying in the crook of a tree. And there wasn’t another chick…no surprise that an egg would have rolled out of this crook. These parents, perhaps inexperienced, had chosen a really poor nest site – maybe the result of our brutal February blizzard destroying the decent nests from last year.

It was clear that if we put this baby back into this nest he would likely fall out again.

The nest complete with cottontail

I ran out to local stores and bought a wire plant basket with a cocoa liner and some sphagnum moss to create a soft lining and to build up the bottom of the basket so that the baby would be at the proper height within the new nest. John supplied wire that we used to attach the basket to two different limbs of the tree, thus allowing it to be really solidly placed in the crook. Back up the ladder, I placed the basket in the crook and then attached the wire to the limbs directly below.

Great Horned Owlet

Next I returned with the baby and placed it back into the nest along with the half-eaten cottontail. A perfect solution! Descending the ladder, I advised John to make sure that the owls began attending to the baby again.

Ten minutes after I left the owlet, John emailed me to say that Mom was already back on the nest. Happy owls, happy rehabber, happy homeowner. Good luck and long life.

Great Horned Owlet in its new and improved nest

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(Originally published by Dawn Keller of Flint Creek Wildlife 3.24.11 in North American Birding)

Can Owls Swim?

Posted on 4 March 2011 by Dawn Keller

This is my most recent post to the North American Birding Blog....

Last night I gave an educational program on owls. I have to admit, had someone asked me whether owls swim I would have answered no. In fact, I may have flippantly responded “Can pigs fly?” Well, that was until today.

Today I responded to a call about an injured owl at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. As I arrived, the owl was in prairie grass about 30 feet from a creek. I approached the owl who started hopping away from me. It was immediately clear that the owl had an injury to its right wing. Convinced of my ability to recover this bird and thinking that the creek would provide the end to its escape path, I continued to approach the bird. I got within two feet and before I could grab for the bird, he again hopped toward the creek. I made a final reach as the bird hopped into the creek, head above water level and wings spread.

Shocked that the bird jumped into the water, I contemplated my next move. I took my coat off, I took my shoes off and then looking at the murky creek bottom, put my shoes back on. I removed the key fob for my car from my jeans pocket. I looked up at the employee who contacted us and asked, “How deep is this water?” She didn’t know. I stuck my foot in the water and pulled it back out thinking there must be another way. Wouldn’t you know that I hadn’t brought my big net on the extension pole?

The creek that the owl swam across

Fortunately, the owl wasn’t struggling in the water. I wasn’t having to life guard this owl at all. It kept its head above water and seemed to be moving its feet, almost as if it was kicking or paddling. The owl was making a direct path to the opposite shoreline – quite honestly, swimming better than I could have.

As the owl approached the opposite shore, it climbed ashore and stood several feet from shoreline not appearing any worse for the swim. I, on the other hand, now had one soaking wet and cold foot and still no owl.

Thinking better of trying to swim or wade across the creek’s cold waters, I asked if there was any way to drive to the other side. Thankfully there was….

The Botanic Garden’s employee Chrissy stayed on the owl’s original side of the creek while I drove around to the new side. With Chrissy standing on the original creek side waving her arms, I was able to approach the owl from the shoreline and he decided to move further from the creek rather than jumping back in. YES! I followed him through some standing water and then grabbed him.

Male Great Horned Owl immediately after recoveryMale Great Horned Owl immediately after recovery

The owl’s prognosis is very good. My feet are still warming up. My shoes are squishy.

We’ve named the owl Spitz. Oh, and by the way, Great Horned Owls can apparently swim.

Need I say more?