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During Baby Season: Young Barn Owls Get Tender, Loving Care

Barn owl babies, thought to be hawks, are brought to the The Fund for Animals Wildife Center.

By the end of May the staff at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Rehabilitation Center was knee deep in babies, and eight hour days quickly turned into ten and eleven hour days and sometimes longer. This is what wildlife rehabilitators, or rehabbers, refer to as “baby season.”

During early summer, a rehabber must be prepared for anything that comes through the door. A bird described by a caller as a baby turkey vulture turns out to be a pigeon; a baby red-tailed hawk is actually a kestrel falcon, and so on. So, when staff received a call reporting that a citizen was bringing in five baby hawks whose nest had been removed from an old sign, we were not sure what to expect.

When the citizen arrived with a shoebox full of babies, instead of hawks we found five nestling barn owls. Three of the youngsters were about the size of a fist and were several days old. The other two were thumb- sized and had obviously just hatched. These tiny ones would certainly pose a challenge. We were determined to see that these babies not only survived, but also thrived.

In addition to feeding other young barn owls, and a few baby hawks, coyotes and skunks on very tight schedules, these newest babies were going to require extra care, extra time and frequent feedings, coupled with minimal human contact. Minimizing human contact is a major objective of rehabbers, to help ensure successful reintroduction into the wild. One of the nice things about Barn Owls is that they rarely imprint on humans, and the nicest thing about a whole clutch of them is that they had each other to imprint upon, ensuring they would behave and interact appropriately.

After a feeding schedule was set, we were soon amazed at the growth rate of these five youngsters. The two youngest doubled in size in only three days! In a natural situation in the wild with parent Barn Owls caring for them, there would be a strong probability of the three larger ones consuming their two smaller siblings. This is referred to as the “Cain and Abel Syndrome,” a natural, if unpleasant to us, process. However, due to human intervention, the two smaller ones would now likely survive as well.

Sure enough, as the month passed, all five Barn Owls thrived with the attentive care and were released back into their home territory in July. Strengthened by loving care and attention, regular feedings, and practice flights, these owls were ready to face the world. The rehabbers’ reward comes when the patients fly, run, walk or swim back to their own special place in the world.

Posted July 21, 2006