Every Spring, the Suffolk Owl Sanctuary’s Raptor Hospital fills up quickly - its regular quota of injured wild owls and other birds of prey is augmented at this time of year by large numbers of baby owls which have fallen from their nests.
Often, these casualties - which are mainly Tawny Owls - have “branched out” prematurely from the roost in preparation for taking flight and have lost their footing. Early morning walkers and their dogs will come across these victims of their own curiosity and if they appear to be too cold or wet to recover, will bring them into the hospital.
Space is therefore in short supply in the hospital ward and extra boxes are being commissioned to cope with the surge in patient numbers.
Luckily, baby owls, once warm and dry, usually recover quickly and their voracious appetites soon equip them with enough sustenance to grow rapidly.
Currently, the hospital is accommodating a family of five Little Owls - casualties of the removal of a barn roof on a local farm - another family of three Little Owls thrown from their nest during a branch fall from the tree they were nesting in, three Tawny Owls - all branchers brought in on separate occasions; and a Little Owl victim of a vicious crow attack.
The latter is a fate quite regularly suffered by owls and other birds of prey. Crows and rooks are quick to pick on a solitary bird, particularly if it has already taken prey, which provides an easy meal for the mobsters! The Little Owl recovering in the hospital sports a nasty bald patch on the back of its head as a result of the crow’s persistent pecking. Luckily that the commotion caused by this incident alerted a passerby to its fate and after a few days of peace, quiet and good food, a dodgy haircut is the only lasting legacy of its predicament!
Birds that have recovered enough to move outside to the rehabilitation aviaries include three road traffic victims - one Common Buzzard, one Tawny Owl and one Barn Owl. The latter has made fantastic progress, having undergone the stress of treatment at a local veterinary practice which involved pinning a broken wing - often too compromising an injury to cope with in a wild bird. Against all the odds, this owl is now building strength and muscle tone in its peaceful, isolatedaccommodation and will be hacked out in the coming weeks to enable its successful return to the wild.
The Suffolk Owl Sanctuary will always accept injured owls and other raptors into its hospital, however, our general guidelines for action if you find an “orphaned” owl are:
- If the owlet is not obviously injured and you feel capable, try to replace it from whence it came - this means IN the nest, not just nearby - by dusk of the same day.
- Make sure you have identified the actual nest site accurately - either by watching the parents returning to the nest or by the strong, ammonia-like smell thatidentifies a populated nest.
- Barn Owl nest sites are usually high off the ground so if you can, enlist a friend to help you return the owlet to its roost straight away: unlike Tawnies, Barn Owls generally will not attempt to rescue or feed a chick that has fallen from the next.
- Tawny Owl chicks may look abandoned and vulnerable, but it is usually the case that its parents know exactly where it is - unlike Barn Owls, Tawnies will continue to feed their young on the ground and may not be far away.
- Tawny Owlets are also very capable of climbing back into their tree using their strong beaks and talons - the best course of action is to put it in the branches of a nearby tree, out of the way of predators and vehicles.
- Only ever remove a bird from its territory if you are SURE it is injured (lying on its side or back is an indicator of injury) or obviously abandoned.
- In any dealings that you have with birds, REMEMBER, more birds are killed by shock and the stress of being handled than by injuries!
- Finally, after handling a bird - or indeed any kind of wildlife - ALWAYS wash you hands.