When in need IMPROVISE!
By Margaret Pickell
One cool night in late January a resident pair of Great Horned Owls circled the Cole Creek development searching for the ideal place to raise their future babies. They were having a tough time because so many trees had been cleared to build human homes.
This left the birds looking in a neighborhood. The pair settled on a huge pile of pine needles on the roof of a welcoming homeowner. Mother owl sat on the eggs waiting for them to hatch. Two big fuzzy babies hatched from their eggs and so the arduous task of finding food began for the parents.
When the babies were about 4 weeks old a heavy rain storm pelted the roof as strong winds began to blow. One baby was blown from the high roof, the other baby stoically made its way up to the peak of the roof and over the top where it was protected by an air vent.
Mother owl tried to feed both babies but several days later the one on the ground began to get weaker. A neighbor called the WR&E Wildlife Center and after many questions it was determined it would be best to bring the little fellow in for an exam and possible return to the nest.
The young owlet was brought in on March 22. It was checked over by our volunteer Veterinarian, Dr. Brenda Flores. No broken wings or bones were found. The owlet was very thin and dehydrated. The Wildlife Center staff and volunteers nursed the little guy back to health and after a week he was checked again and it was determined he would be able to be re-nested.
During this week wildlife staff stayed very busy trying to coordinate the successful return of this baby to his family. Calls were made in an attempt to find a safe way to return the baby. Ladders were not going to work because it was too high and not safe to carry the owlet up to the top. By the end of the first day it looked like we were striking out for the re-nesting project. Then CenterPoint Energy stepped up to the plate. With them we hit a homerun.
They sent out two crews and two different trucks for our use. A plan was discussed with several back ups and away we went. The little baby traveled well in the car to his old neighborhood. While Sharon Schmalz, who specializes in Great Horned Owls, got into her safety harness a crowd began to form.
Many area children getting home from school were curious about the re-nesting project. They all sat patiently on the grass as a wildlife specialist explained to them what was going to happen and that the Great Horned Owls were a protected species. Questions were answered and everyone was ready for the action to begin.
The mother Great Horned Owl was seen sitting in a giant pine tree several yards away. Now everyone was ready for the re-nesting. The bucket truck began lifting and everyone held their breaths. Sharon and the owlet reached the old nest and she gently lifted him into the nest. The crowd of children down below clapped as the baby was returned to his home.
He sat for a while and then began taking clumsy baby steps up the top of the roof. He knew where he was. While the crowd was watching the newly returned baby, the sibling appeared to greet him. Both babies hopped to the shade of the chimney and began their wait for dinner.
Sometimes we wish we had time to capture special moments like this on film. As it just so happened an Animal Planet crew was there to film the continuing saga of our little charge.
Night settled on the now quiet neighborhood. As families went about their evening business a large shadowy figure was hunting silently in the night for dinner for her two owlet babies.
Postscript – Mom took great care of her two babies and the homeowners report that the babies have successfully fledged. All three have been seen hunting in the neighborhood. A special thanks goes out to CenterPoint Energy for bringing two bucket trucks to the rescue and Animal Planet for documenting the saga of this wonderful Great Horned Owl family.