On May 4th, TRC Staff picked up a 10-day-old Great Horned Owl chick in Rexburg, ID. A well meaning, but unknowing citizen had found the owl and had been attempting to care for it at his home. While we are grateful for his interest in birds of prey and their well being, only licensed rehabilitation centers are able to provide the appropriate diet and stimuli for young or injured raptors. Friends of a staff member told us about the young bird in need, and we brought the owl to our clinic. At TRC, we evaluated the owl and found him to be healthy. Our main concern, however, was that the owl appeared to be somewhat comfortable around humans.
Young birds imprint on their parents and siblings during the first few weeks of life. Imprinting is how they know what species they are and what to look for in a mate when they grow up. When people raise young birds, the birds imprint on humans and cannot go back to the wild. Malimprinted birds look to humans for food and when it comes time to find a mate. They can also be aggressive towards people and do not exhibit the appropriate fear of humans. Not only is it a bad idea for the birds’ sake, it is illegal to release malimprinted birds back to the wild.
We wanted to ensure that this little Great Horned Owl had exposure to his own species. Our first choice was to return the young bird to his original nest. Our second choice was to find a Great Horned Owl nest with young of the same age in which the orphan could be “wild fostered.” In this case, neither option was available. Luckily, Teton Raptor Center’s adult female Great Horned Owl, Owly, was available to foster the chick. Owly is thirteen years old and has never raised young before, so it was a bit of an experiment. We weren’t sure if she would be interested in filling the role of foster mom. At first, we kept the baby in a kennel so that Owly could get used to the baby. After a few days, we opened the kennel and let the two of them live together. Owly was very tolerant of the baby and became a great mentor. After a few days, she even started bringing food down to where the baby could get to it. This allowed staff to feed the baby through a tube and further limit exposure to humans.
While Owly provided mentorship to the growing owl, we continued the search for an active nest in the wild. On May 24th, a wildlife photographer and friend of Teton Raptor Center, Irene Greenberg, submitted a photo of an active Great Horned Owl nest for Teton Raptor Center’s photo-of-the-week. The photo was taken in Victor, ID and the chicks were approximately the same age as our chick. We located the nest, contacted the landowner and were able to get the young owl into the nest with the help of the Department of Idaho Fish and Game. Now, the owl is in the wild with a new family. We are so grateful to everyone involved in this success story, but we’re especially grateful for Owly!