After the Fall, a Winged Climb Back to the Heights – a Screech-owl’s Second Chance

Most everywhere that you find people, you find wild animals that are born into a world that isn’t the one evolution prepared them for … skyscrapers, cars and trucks, industrial agriculture, deer netting, cats, wind farms, deforestation, ocean pollution, radiation, – the breakneck expansion of the built world over the last 200 years has re-made huge swaths of Mother Earth, and her children, all of us, pay the price. We all know.

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Bird Ally X/Humboldt Wildlife Care Center admits for care those wild animals who are found injured in the conflict. A Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) who’d been swatted by a roaming house cat in Rio Dell, a young River Otter (Lontra canadensis) from Crescent City whose mother had been hit by a car, or an Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) with tail and flight feathers singed bare when he landed on powerlines and a fire broke out – each of these are recent cases. This is wildlife rehabilitation. The nestling Western Screech-owl (Megascops kennicottii) pictured above had fallen from his nest in Rohner Park, Fortuna.

WESO-2016-6Thin and dehydrated upon admission, the Western screech-owl quickly accepted the offered bits of mouse we fed, gaining weight daily.

This isn’t the first time we’ve raised a young Screech-owl found in that park. Up and away from the heavily used open area of Rohner Park is a forested low ridge of old Redwoods that makes an attractive fragment of habitat. Screech-owls are among our many wild neighbors who call it their home. Walking trails weave through the trees.

Ways in which we change the forest with our more urbane usage can wreak havoc on a nest of owls. Understory is cleared for trails, for safety, from repeated off trail excursions, leaving nothing to catch the first explorations of nestling owl, branching out, you might say. A fall to the ground leaves the youngster stranded in a strange world with only one outcome: death. Predator, machine, starvation, or even well-intended wrong actions from people – one of these will claim the owl. The only chance this owl had was to be found by someone who knew what to do.

WESO-2016-40The forested ridge of Rohner Park, Fortuna, home for Western Screech-owls and many more wild neighbors.

A regular walker at Rohner Park, a gentleman who knows the park well, found the owl at the base of a tall Redwood. He scooped the downy little one up into a box and delivered the box to park staff. They called us. Fortunately, we have a dedicated volunteer in Fortuna who was able to drive the owl to our clinic.

Version 2Growing up!

Soon more useful feathers for the future began to grow in. We have to wonder how things were back at the nest. Year-round, we admit adult Screech-owls who have been hit by cars. Of course some of these adults had active nests with young ones who may not survive the loss of this parent. We work in the trenches, where the machinery tears into the earth. We treat the injured, we grieve the losses, we struggle to do right by their orphans and raise them to be competent, free and able to thrive. And if possible, we retrun babies to their families.

As soon as the owl was eating on his own, nearly full grown, full feathered and sure footed (and still on the smaller side of average, so presumably a male), he was not yet flying well, he was what some call a “brancher.” A brancher doesn’t need the nest anymore, which mean that we could more easily re-unite him with his parents. All we need to find is his family. 

WESO-2016-20BAX Wildlife Rehabilitator, Lucinda Adamson briefly holds the owlet so that he can call, hopefully bringing his parents to ivestigate. This method can be a very effective way to locate families. Imagine our own children calling, who we’ve missed.

Unfortunately, the annual rodeo was at the park, and the noise and disruption was too great – no Screech-owls were seen or heard. We had to bring the young owl back to the clinic. Given the activities planned for the park through the busy summer, we decided to continue his care until he was able to fend for himself. A few more weeks of privacy and mice and the chance to learn to hear, to see, to swoop, to clutch, to kill, to eat, to live and he would be ready to return – and by then the rodeo, the car show, and other events, would be over. 

Now, we housed the owl with natural forest items, evergreen branches and a leaf litter floor where we could hide food, and where he might learn to detect prey. Eventually we moved the owl to a large outside aviary, where thrived on his own, learning to hunt and learning to fly, with little interference from us except for weight checks, housekeeping and feeding.

Eventually after more than 6 weeks in care, we had done for him what we could. The only improvement we could offer him was freedom.
WESO-2016-31An excellent flier now, his ability to evade the net was impressive. Soon his skills will open up the dense branches of the forest for his silent passage. 

Version 2The aviary of his youth will soon be only a memory.

At the end of the workday, BAX staff took the young owl back to Rohner Park. The sun was setting and the park was a normal park – families played in the playground – gunfire from a nearby shooting range sounded – but no large events – just the regular daily life that will always be a part of this owl’s experience.

We release our patients into the real world. It is unquestionable that many of the challenges that this owl face are not just, they are not right. But they are real. Nature always takes her own course, even when she is thwarted, when she is injured, when she is smashed into pieces. And this owl is a part of her and will thrive, we hope, and raise owls of his own some day, here in Rohner Park, and the struggle for life, and for co-existence, and for more will continue, here in our small corner of the wild blue world.

WESO-2016-49A cautious young owl hopefully grows to be an old wise one.

The young owl did not want to leave the box after first opening. It’s good when a juvenile shows reluctance to venture into a new territory or new situation. Caution is not a bad course of action, especially when you are completely ignorant of what awaits. The owl was offered a stick to perch on in the box and he waited for over 30 minutes before flying. As the light faded, he flew higher andhigher into the canopy. Until at last it was too dark for him to be seen.

Version 2The young owl’s first flight, free in the wild.

Version 2Perching relatively near after his first wild flight, the youngster gets his bearings.

Version 2At dusk he was perched much farther above – alive to the night. 

His family of owls, if they are intact, will likely find this young male – and if they don’t we have given him the best education we could for him to thrive on his own. And nature herself has equipped him for life as an owl far better than anyone else ever could.

Your support made his care possible. Your support provides the care for all of our wild patients. Thank you for making it happen. Every gift helps. $5 fed this owl for a day. $500 paid for his entire care – food, electric, gas, medicine. While our patients’ gratitude may be uncertain, ours is deep and heartfelt.


All photos: Laura Corsiglia / Bird Ally X