At this time of year, when our native wild owls are a-courtin’, we try to spread the message that seemingly abandoned chicks are usually better left where they are, because mum and dad are most likely not far away, keeping a weather eye on them.
However, there’s always the exception to the rule and sometimes a youngster clearly hasn’t just taken a bit of a tumble from its nest. A case in point was when one of our falconers received a concerned email from a gentleman, saying that there was a rather bedraggled baby owl in his garden that had been there for some hours. In this instance, the poor bird had obviously strayed rather too far from its nest and had finally taken refuge beside a flowerpot. Head Falconer Matt duly went to assess the situation on his way home from work and was certain that the chick, a young Tawny, had either lost or been abandoned by its parents. Not only was the Tawny Owlet somewhat dishevelled and soaking wet, but was also very thin, which suggested that it wasn’t being fed.
Having taken the chick home and put it somewhere warm and quiet, Matt then brought it in to the raptor hospital here at the Sanctuary, where it was given plenty of TLC and much needed food to help build it back up to full health and strength. The Tawny owlet has now been put into one of our special rehab aviaries with three other abandoned young Tawnies of similar age for company. One of the most important things about rearing wild young owls, with a view to releasing them, is minimal human contact, so that they don’t imprint or become attached to a handler. Everything possible is done to allow them as natural an upbringing as possible so that the transition back into the wild is easy.
In around a week or so the four Tawny chicks will be taken to a nearby farm area where we have very kindly been allowed to erect a permanent hack box. Here we provide & replace food on a daily basis so that the youngsters will be fed every day while they adapt to their new surroundings. Once the chicks are ready to go exploring, the front of the hack box will be opened and the process of integrating into the wild will begin. The chicks will continue to be fed for as long as they reappear at the hack box looking for food, but gradually, as they become accustomed to hunting, they will need to be supported less and less. Just like Tawny owlets raised in a nest together, they will naturally disperse and find their own territory. Once the chicks are put out in the hack box, we’ll keep you posted and let you know how they get on.