2011-11-06 "When nest was destroyed, raptor team flew to rescue" by ANGELA CISTONE ZIERENBERG from "Napa Valley Register"
It was an unseasonably cold and windy morning in late April when a call came in to the Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County. The caller, a landscaper, was working in a local vineyard when he noticed two very young owls huddled together at the base of a large redwood tree.
The caller was advised by the dispatch operator to wait near the birds until members of the Raptor Rescue Team could arrive. When my husband, Chad Zierenberg and I, directors of raptor care for the organization, arrived, we identified the babies as great horned owlets, approximately two and a half weeks old.
They were about the size of grapefruits and covered in a layer of white fuzzy down. We could see that the hatchlings were cold, having been without the warmth of their mother, but were in otherwise good condition.
Great horned owls are not skillful nest-builders. In fact, they most often will use an old abandoned hawk’s or crow’s nest to lay their eggs and raise their young. After locating the not-so-sound nest and remembering the windy weather from the night before, we concluded that the owlets had been blown from their home in the storm. We took the displaced babies into care for further assessment and a full physical examination.
We were pleased to discover that no injuries had occurred from the fall and that both babies were healthy. This meant that the tiny great horned owlets were perfect candidates for renesting.
Whenever possible, the Wildlife Rescue Center rehabilitators work tirelessly to reunite families of all species. All mammals and birds have the best chance at a successful life if they are raised by their parents. This is especially true for great horned owls.
These nocturnal raptors have a long and extended childhood, staying with their parents for the first seven months of their lives. During this period, the young owls learn survival skills such as hunting and continue to depend on their parents for food.
Knowing how vital it was to reunite the young fallen owlets, we rehydrated the babies and placed them in an incubator for warmth. After returning to the nest site, we decided that the wind-blown nest was too damaged to withstand the weight of the growing babies and their mother.
This meant that a makeshift nest would have to be used in place of the original weathered residence. Another key component in reuniting the owl family came when an adult great horned owl was spotted in a tree near the broken nest. This was an excellent sign, and we could only assume that this was one of the parents. While the owlets recovered from shock and warmed up in the incubator, we quickly formulated a plan to replace the old nest and put a new, sturdier nest — and the babies — back up into the tree.
We decided that a square-shaped laundry basket lined with foliage collected from the nest site would be the owl family’s new dwelling. Rockzilla, a local climbing gym, graciously loaned us equipment to safely climb the tall tree.
Chad, an experienced climber, hoisted the basket up as he climbed to the old nest area. Using ropes, he securely attached the new nest to the trunk of the tree 30 feet up. When the basket was firmly in place and made sturdy enough to resist a storm’s fury, it was time to renest the owlets.
We had not given the babies any food while they recuperated for the short time they spent in the incubator. A hungry owlet will vocalize to its parents when it needs to eat. The hope was that these calls would lead the mother to the new nest, where she would find her babies.
Carefully, we lifted the two fallen owlets up into the tree and placed them in their new laundry-basket home. The babies were still too young to regulate their temperature, and they would need the warmth and protection of their mother as soon as possible.
The adult great horned owl that had been seen earlier that day was still in a tree close by, so we left the nest site and hoped the owl family would reconnect before nightfall. After several nerve-wracking hours, we returned to check on the family at dusk. We were relieved to find the great horned owl mother in the new laundry basket nest with her babies.
After this successful and rewarding reunion, we continued to monitor the owl family. The owlets successfully fledged out of their laundry-basket nest and have been observed hunting with both parents in the surrounding vineyards. The laundry-basket nest remains in place in hopes that the family will return this spring with a new set of chicks.
The raptor team monitored the juvenile great horned owls’ progress. Here the juvenile birds are perched in a nearby tree after fledging from their laundry-basket nest.