Orphan Owlets

Hunting SchoolAn owlet that is separated from its parents before it learns to fly and hunt is in big trouble. No human can raise an owlet as well as its own parents. Tragically, this often happens when an unknowing human finds and "rescues" a flightless owlet that appears to have been abandoned by its parents. It is far more likely that the human has simply scared the parents away and that they are waiting in the distance for the human to leave. If one of these owlets is separated from its parents, it presents an extreme challenge for even the most experienced wildlife rehabilitator. Unlike the injured adult owl, it cannot simply be nursed back to health and released. It must somehow learn the flying, hunting, and social skills that Wally and Theodore took  three months to learn while under the protection of their parents. This requires surrogate parents of their own species in the early stages, followed by hunting practice with live prey in large flight pens. When possible, some wildlife rehabilitators also provide live prey at the release point to supplement their diet for several weeks.  You will remember that Ward and June continued to supplement Wally and Theodore's diet throughout the summer as they refined their hunting skills.

Final ApproachThe three-month-old orphan owls pictured on this page are shown chasing mice that were provided to supplement their diet after their release. The owl on the ground in the upper picture was the quickest learner and vanished into the woods within a couple of weeks. The other owl (also pictured on the right) took another month to sharpen its hunting skills enough to survive without help. These spectacular photographs were taken by an OwlCam fan (Gail) who provided facilities and food for the young owls as they learned to hunt. Note that the owl in the lower picture has "graduated" to catching black mice. This takes some getting used to for an owl that has been raised on white laboratory mice in a wildlife rehabilitation facility.
In many parts of the country, barred owls derive an important part of their diet from fishing. They stand on the banks of streams or ponds until they see a good target and then pounce with both feet.  It took quite a bit of practice for the owlets pictured on this page to learn to fish, but Gail persisted and they were quite proficient by the time they disappeared into the wild.  While there is little data on how owls raised in captivity fare in the wild, these owlets were given every advantage that humans are able to provide. It is now up to them to compete for territories and mates. 

For a detailed explanation of what wildlife rehabilitators do to prepare orphaned owlets for life in the wild, I recommend Katherine Mckeever's "Care and and Rehabilitation of Injured owls" which can be ordered through Amazon.com. 

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