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