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Benton City woman takes care of baby owls

Article Date: 2010-04-24   Source: http://www.thenewstribune.com   Comments: 0

By Kevin McCullen

Benton City, Washington, U.S.A. - The owl nesting boxes are nearly full at Michele Caron's spread, and the babies are hungry.

A cacophony of hisses greeted Caron one evening this week as she climbed a ladder to peer into a wooden nesting, or hacking, box perched on a pole about a dozen feet off the ground.

The handful of fuzzy, white and pterodactyl-like baby barn owls never relented in their protestation of her presence, unaware that she delivers their twice-daily meals of dead mice.

"They're happy," laughed Caron, who runs the owl rehabilitation and foster program for the nonprofit Blue Mountain Wildlife of Pendleton, which focuses on raptor rescue and rehabilitation.

Baby barn owls are the primary occupants these days of the 10 hacking boxes on Caron's 25-acre oasis of trees, pasture and an abundance of live mice and gophers. The owl baby season is entering prime time. There were about 20 babies on the premises earlier this week, and in an average year, the sanctuary can play host to up to 65.

More baby owls keep arriving nearly every day, most rescued after falling from nests in large hay bales that were moved. They're joined by the occasional screech or great-horned owl, most of which were branching and developing their flight skills when picked up by well-intentioned rescuers.

But they all need mice, plenty of them. On average, a baby barn owl consumes from six to eight a day, said Lynn Tompkins, co-director of Blue Mountain Wildlife. Adults, in contrast, eat up to four a day, she said.

In a year, Blue Mountain Wildlife spends nearly $40,000 on food at Pendleton and Benton City. So the group plans a "Barn Owl Boot Camp" fundraiser from 1 to 3 p.m. today at the Richland Community Center in Howard Amon Park. Its goal is to raise $5,000 to buy 10,000 mice, which are purchased frozen from a supplier.

"Mice are an important food source for them," said Caron, who occasionally finds remains in hack boxes of mice or gophers that were caught on her property.

Baby owls, if fed a different diet, can develop bone fractures from calcium deficiencies, Tompkins said. Last week, four young barn owls that had fallen from a haystack in George were being kept in cages and observed by Caron because they'd been given hamburger by their rescuer.

Others in the hack boxes are fed mice through a tube on the side where they cannot see Caron, which helps avoid the possibility of becoming accustomed to human feeding.

Owls remain in the hack boxes while they mature and start to leave the nest to branch, or move from branch to branch on a tree and flap their wings to strengthen them for flight. But while branching, baby owls often fall out of trees and have to use their talons and elbows to climb back up, said Marilyn Hayes, a member of Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society and volunteer with Blue Mountain Wildlife.

Baby owls found on the ground often are mistakenly thought to be orphaned or injured and are picked up by well-meaning people, said Hayes, who responds to rescue calls.

Earlier this week, she was contacted by a Kennewick homeowner who found a baby screech owl on the ground. She brought the bird to Caron, who examined it and returned it to its nest later in the day.

Hayes said she looks for active nests for screech and great-horned owls to return babies that are picked up.

"We tell people that if they see a baby owl on the ground to leave it alone, unless it's being threatened by a dog or cat," Hayes said.

Baby barn owls that are ousted from nests in hay bales, though, have no place to go. So they often wind up with Caron.

On Friday, Chep Gauntt of Gauntt Farms said the nest of some baby barns was disturbed when a tarp covering hay bales was removed. Gauntt called Blue Mountain Wildlife.

"They've got to be rescued. They're on a stack that'll be hauled out soon," said Gauntt, who has barn owls living much of the year in a hay shed at his farm.

The busiest owl rehabilitation time for Caron is from March to early June. And when the owls have learned to fly, they typically take off one evening and never return.

"None of them ever look back and say, 'Thank You,' when they leave, but that's all right," Caron said.

Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from http://www.thenewstribune.com and placed here for comment. OwlPages.com is not responsible for the accuracy of any information in this article, and does not necessarily agree with the author's opinions.

Related Articles:
2010-06-21 - Burrowing owls make comeback at Umatilla depot by Kevin McCullen - Umatilla, Oregon, U.S.A.
2010-03-14 - Burrowing owls get new digs in Eastern Washington by Kevin McCullen - Eastern Washington state, U.S.A.
2009-05-04 - Abandoned owls have home near Benton City by John Trumbo - Benton City, Washington, U.S.A.
2008-05-03 - Baby Owls Lose Hay Bale Homes by Rudabeh Shahbazi - Benton City, Washington, U.S.A.
2007-05-04 - Baby owls a real hoot by Mary Hopkin - Benton City, Washington, U.S.A.

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