Many ‘orphaned’ Owls are not usually orphaned at all - they may be just in the process of testing their wings! Fledglings tend to spread out and away from their nests long before they can actually fly - this prevents overcrowding in the nest as the youngsters grow rapidly, and is nature’s way of helping to minimise any threat to the entire clutch from predators. But, many young birds lose their footing during these first explorations and fall to the ground.
The first thing to do is determine what sort of owl chick you may have stumbled across, as each may need your help in a different way. If the unfortunate is discovered in the proximity of a building, it is most likely to be a Barn Owl nestling, though they can be found near tree hollows or nestboxes mounted in trees. The owlets can be identified by their thick, fluffy white down which, after 7-8 weeks, begins to take on the colouring of an adult bird. The chick will certainly need your help because adult Barn Owls usually feed only fledglings that are in the nest, so if the youngster has had the misfortune to fall out, the parent is likely to ignore it and leave it to die.
If the Barn Owlet is not obviously injured and you feel capable, try to replace it IN (not just near) the nest by dusk of the same day. Make sure you have correctly identified the actual nest site, either visually through the activity of the parents or the strong, ammonia-like smell which is the tell-tale sign of a populated nest. But take care - Barn Owl nests are usually high off the ground, so you may need a companion to help and a good, solid means of ascent.
Tawny Owl nestlings need handling differently. You are likely to find the apparently ‘orphaned’ youngsters in woodland or near trees, their natural habitat. A grounded Tawny chick may look lost and vulnerable, but the chances are its parents know exactly where it is and, unlike parent Barn Owls, they will continue to feed it even though it may be on the ground away from the nest.
Many young Tawnies are in fact quite capable of climbing back into their tree using beaks and talons, and so if you believe it to be a Tawny Owlet, the best thing you can do is make sure it is out of the way of direct harm from predators, vehicles and people by putting it in the branches of the nearest tree, and quietly walking away.
Only ever remove the bird from the area where you find it if you are positive it has been abandoned or clearly injured. If in doubt you can e-mail us at info@owl-help,org.uk or call us between 8am and 10pm on 03456 807 897 / option 5 seven days a week throughout the year, and we will do our best to help.