Like other owls, Great Horned owls are opportunistic when it comes to nest and nest site selection. In fact, they do not build their own nest, but rather re-use those abandoned by other birds such as eagles, hawks, herons, crows and ravens. In some cases, these nests are not in great condition and can fall apart from wind and wear; sometimes this happens while the owlets are still in the nest.
This was most likely the case when nearly a year ago, a concerned citizen came across three Great Horned owlets huddled on the ground in North Saanich. Unfortunately, one had succumbed to his injuries, but the other two were bright and alert and immediately transported to BC SPCA’s Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre (ARC). Despite the long fall, the owlets were in fairly good condition; suffering only from some bruising and dehydration.
The wildlife rehabilitation team at Wild ARC performed a complete physical examination and, given their condition, the young owls were administered rehydration fluids and hand-fed mice to ensure that their nutritional needs were met.
Whenever possible, Wild ARC staff will attempt to reunite babies with their parents, especially for species needing extensive parental care to learn critical skills such as hunting for prey items. In this case, the owlets were healthy and staff decided to attempt reuniting the family. In order to do so, Wild ARC volunteers were deployed to the nest site to see if the parents were still in the area.
Once it was confirmed that the parents were present, the second step to the re-nesting process was put into motion. Since the original nest was no longer viable, a substitute needed to be built for the owlets to be returned high up into a tree where the parents could care for them.
A wicker basket was chosen for its natural properties and to ensure good drainage during rainfall. Jeff Krieger, from Alternative Wildlife Solutions, offered to help in this process by climbing up a suitable tree to secure the nest between large fir branches. The babies were then placed in a kennel tied to a rope and were hoisted up to the false nest by Krieger who delicately transferred the owlets into their new nest.
For the next couple of hours, Krieger, a staff member and a volunteer moved away from the nest tree, but kept a sharp eye on the babies while waiting for the parents to return. Recognizing the calls of their young, both adults approached the nest and investigated the presence of this new feature in the tree and, by the time the sun set, the family was back together. The young owls thrived on the care from their parents and successfully fledged from their false nest a few weeks later.
Wildlife rehabilitation is in part treating injured and orphaned wild animals, but in many cases, the care they need is simply to find a safe way to return them to their parents.
This was a successful story, but like many stories, it wasn’t quite the end for the adult pair. Remember how owls will re-use other birds’ nests?
In this case, they re-used this human-made one. Great Horned owls are early nesters and in March 2017, a hiker noticed that the Great Horned owls had returned to the wicker nest to rear their new brood.
This is a unique case where Wild ARC not only helped these fallen owlets, but also helped the future generations of Great Horned owls in the area.
Photo of owl in false nest by Dan Takahashi
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.