Barred Owl (Case History #1)

Barred owl nestling reunited using nest basket, with an orphaned nestling being added a week later

A nestling Barred Owl about 3 weeks old was found on the ground in the front yard of a rural home near Columbiana, in Shelby County. Because of other, more urgent cases, it was 5 or 6 days before we were able to mount an expedition to return the young owl to its parents.  The original nest tree was a rotting stump, and there were obviously no other surviving juveniles.

Since the stump was too fragile to use,  we selected a big shade tree about 50 feet away, on the edge of the woods, and volunteer tree climber Tim Leopard installed the nestling in a nest basket about 40 feet up in a fork of the tree.  At the time we were still using a portable tape player.  Every time the 5 minute tape ran out, I had to go to the base of the tree and rewind the tape. Nevertheless, after about 45 minutes, just as the light was beginning to become dim, the adult owls appeared out of the woods. They came immediately to the nest tree, and investigated the nest. It was too dark to see anything more, so we left.

Original nest tree

A week later we returned, to check on the first nestling’s progress, and also hoping to add another nestling to the nest. As Tim climbed up to the nest, the nestling became so frightened that it backed over the side of the nest and fell to the ground.   Fortunately, the bird was uninjured and looked very well-nourished and healthy.  We put the nestling back, and added a younger nestling from another Shelby County nest.

The foster nestling was about a week younger, and had fallen from its nest cavity in Shelby County a few days earlier. The nest cavity was simply a shallow notch 70 feet up in the side of a slender shade tree. Even if tree had not been too dangerous to climb, any attempt to put this bird back in its own nest cavity would probably have caused the other nestlings to fall as well. Since the Columbiana adults were taking good care of their own nestling, and only had one bird, it was much safer to foster the younger nestling to their secure and spacious nest basket.

Two weeks later we went back to get some pictures of the nestlings in the nest basket, but both birds had already “branched”, and could be seen peering down at us from perches high in the tree. This is one of those cases that I would never have attempted before I started using the recorded calls. With such unfavorable circumstances— nearly a week of separation, the rotten nest tree, and the absence of other nestlings to keep the adults in the area—I would have assumed the chances of reuniting this family were practically nil.  I definitely owed this one to the recorded calls.

 New tree with nest basket


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