Last spring, family of Northern Saw-whet Owls had quite the surprise when their nest tree was suddenly cut down. The landscaping company found a cavity-nest full of five nestlings in the recently felled tree, and immediately called Teton Raptor Center. We transferred the five healthy babies into an American Kestrel nest box and the landscapers installed it in a nearby tree, while the owl parents kept a close watch on the proceedings. A few weeks later, the five young owls had reached their full size and were perched in the tree when the landscaping crew returned. Young raptors are most likely to fledge successfully when they are raised by their wild parents.
So, each spring when we receive calls about young chicks, we endeavor to help reunite them with their parents or foster them into other nests as soon as possible rather than admit them into our clinic. In our clinic, despite our best efforts to disguise the human form while feeding, young raptors are at risk for coming to recognize humans as members of their own species, in a process called imprinting, and associating us with parental care and food.
If you find a young raptor in your yard and it is still covered in fluffy down, it’s too young to be out of the nest. One way to help the youngster is to attach a laundry basket to the tree or a nearby structure. Fill the basket with sticks and leaves and install it high up in the tree. Then, leave the area alone so that the parents can come back.
If the young raptor can walk around and has some adult feathers, it’s a fledgling and it’s old enough to be out of the nest. You can help by keeping pets away and making sure that it’s not in immediate danger (ie. in the road). The parents will keep an eye on their young and feed them even while they move around on the ground. You might not see the parents, but they are around. The best thing you can do for a fledgling is leave it alone.
"The picture of the owlet in the basket was taken last Friday after we were called by a neighbor's caretaker who found him/her on the ground under an evergreen on the banks of the Teton River in Tetonia. Mom was close by and fairly stressed but allowed us to pick up and put the owlet in the small basket. We wanted to get it off the ground until we could return with a larger basket. Mom could not get into the small basket so she was on the ground with a vole and the owlet nestled next to her when we brought larger accommodations. Mom almost immediately settled into the new nest and has been there every time we check. I stopped by yesterday morning and all was well. We don't get close. And we have not told anyone where she is. I hope it will be a successful fledge.
Thanks to you and your center for the advice on the basket. It works!!" - Mary Mason
Over in Idaho, a demolition crew found a clutch of seven tiny Barn Owl chicks while deconstructing an old silo. They suspended the demolition and called Teton Raptor Center. We advised them to keep the young with their parents and sent them plans for a Barn Owl nest box. They built and installed the box on a nearby pole, and moved the nestlings into their new home, where the parents promptly resumed caring for them. The crew has kept us updated on the owls’ progress:
May 12th – “We got the crane back today and the Owls had moved a little bit we're still there. We transported them to the owl box just a few feet away from the structure that's being taken down most of them seemed pretty healthy except two of them seemed pretty weak…They didn't like us moving them very much and hissed a lot.”
May 19th –“Looks like they took, all 7 are doing really well, even those two that looked half dead are looking really good. Kind of fun to see.”
By Meghan Warren and Carrie Ann Adams