A new year and depths of winter await us … but new life is happening now! Even as we speak there are babies in the trees that we almost never see. They are the nocturnal kind: our wild neighbors, the owls.
Owls have their babies very early in the year so keeping them warm and fed makes this full-time job even more difficult. Mom sits on the eggs, and hopefully soon she sits on chicks, technically called owlets. Dad works the night shift to provide for his growing family.
A few years ago, an all-too-familiar phone call came at the first light of morning. A Hillsborough resident was on the other end and frantic. She had strung fishing line around a small pond to keep out the herons and there, badly tangled, was the father owl. It took me and a fellow rehabber who specializes in raptors to safely untangle him from the line. His shoulder was separated; his toes were bloody, and the fishing line had cut all the way through to his skull.
As bad as that sounds, help came in time and our wild neighbors can be good patients as well as tough and resilient. Treatment was begun immediately in the hope we could release him quickly enough so the mother and owlets would not starve. Mom won’t leave the nest or the young, even to eat. Owls are often cavity dwellers so storage of food is possible, and our hope was that they had a few things stashed away so that survival would be possible.
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The best chance at release for owls, who are nocturnal, always comes late in the day when owls would be starting their foraging. This one had eaten well in captivity, responded to treatment and was set free three and a half days later within a few hundred feet of where he was rescued. We will never know if he arrived in time, but we do know he recovered and hopefully went on to live and thrive.
The lesson here is to NOT put out things that can injure, capture or restrain wild birds and mammals. They won’t go down without a fight and in doing so they become their own worst enemies. Mammals in leg hold traps (the cruelest of all) will chew off their own limbs to escape. Be careful what you place or leave accidentally outside. Those plastic six pack holders are killers; deer netting when not installed properly can ensnare a multitude of birds, mammals and reptiles. Barbed wire is still around us, and I’ve treated more than one creature found hanging from it.
Even a rescue can cause injury unless it’s done right. For that reason, among others, do not attempt to touch or handle wildlife. Adults can inflict painful injuries requiring medical attention primarily because they see you as a predator. Trying to handle birds or some young mammals causes extreme stress that makes rehabilitation more difficult. Call a qualified rehabilitator. Our wild neighbors are having enough trouble surviving in the human world that has encroached on their habitat. Let’s try to resolve in 2017 to be good neighbors and consider all life around us.
Linda Ostrand has been a state and federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator for more than 25 years. She can be reached at 919-428-0896