Orphaned owls find new cuddly-toy mum
Article Date: 2007-05-04 Source: http://www.dailymail.co.uk
Marchwood, Hampshire, England, U.K. - A group of orphaned baby owls snuggle up to a cuddly toy which has become their surrogate mum after they were found on the brink of death in the wild.
The tiny tawny owl chicks burrow in under the fluffy toy's wings to keep warm
after they were separated from their own mothers.
The chicks, all aged between just four and eight weeks, faced certain death as
they fended for themselves alone in the wild but are now recovering in an animal hospital.
Two of them, brother and sister Oscar and Olivia, aged four weeks were brought
in by a concerned dog walker who found them being clawed to death by a pair of
A fluffy baby aged around six weeks called Thomas was taken to the animal centre
by a member of the public who spotted him lying on the edge of a busy road.
And tiny eight-week-old Tamsin narrowly escaped a nasty end when she was
discovered by a cyclist tottering along a popular bike path through a forest.
All four of the nocturnal creatures are now being cared for by experts at the
New Forest Otter, Owl & Wildlife Park at Longdown in the New Forest, Hants.
After a tough start in life, they are being fed up to full strength in the
park's hospital quarters, where they crave love from their surrogate mum.
The park's animal manager, John Crooks, said the little chicks may have got lost
from their mums in the Hampshire countryside after wandering off before they
Or they may also have been forced out of the nest by their parents if they were
the youngest of a large brood to hatch.
He said: "There's a lot of misinformation about tawny owls.
"They're perceived to be very wise animals because of their appearance but
really they're not very bright at all.
"Very often, baby tawny owls will leave their nests high up in trees out of
curiosity before they can fly.
"They can clamber around using their claws but it's all too easy for them to
fall out of the tree and get lost and they may never be found again by their
"It was desperately sad when these beautiful creatures were brought in because
they were so distressed at getting lost from their families or being abandoned.
"They are so cuddly, almost human looking with their big wide eyes and facial
expressions, we do find ourselves getting attached to them if we're not careful.
"But we all know that they are better off in the wild, so we are trying not to
get too attached and are doing what we can so that they can be returned to their
"It would be better for them to be brought up by mum and dad in the nest rather
than by humans, but we are doing our best to ensure that they get a decent start
"We just feel lucky that they were rescued and brought in when they were.
"Two of them were found by a dog walker who spotted a couple of cats playing
with what looked like two balls of fluff.
"Those balls of fluff turned out to be Olivia and Oscar, so the man scared off
the cats, wrapped the owls in his coat and brought them in to us.
"A few minutes later, and they might have been mauled to death by the cats.
"Thomas might well have been run over by a car lying there at the side of the
road, and Tamsin certainly wouldn't have lasted long alone on a busy cycle
The four chicks will spend the next few weeks in a shady area of the park's
hospital quarters, which mimics the environment of an owl's nest.
Then, once their wings and adult feathers are grown, they will be moved to an
aviary to spend another month or two learning to fly and building up their
Experts hope to be able to release the orphans back into the wild when they
reach the age of three to four months.
At the moment they are being fed on pieces of diced chicken and rat, and a
special calcium and vitamin supplement to help their bones grow stronger.
Mr Crooks said that Oscar and Olivia were severely dehydrated when they were
brought in and had to be hand fed to get them back up to strength.
But he added that now all four are growing up fast and healthy.
The group have all bonded and snuggle up close to each other and to the cuddly
toy owl dubbed 'mummy owl', which has to be washed regularly because she gets so
The babies are also making their first attempts at flight by jumping off objects
and flapping their little wings.
The tiny chicks stand just a few inches tall at the moment, but within a couple
of months they will grow to be around one foot tall.
Their grey and white feathers will also be replaced with beautiful mottled brown
adult plumage to help them camouflage and they will grow wings spanning two
feet. Over time they will be fed larger pieces of meat and whole rodents, before
eventually being freed to hunt for prey themselves. Mr Crooks, 41, added: "In
some ways they will have a better start on their peers in the wild, because they
will have been better fed. "They may lack a bit of confidence and skill in the
air, but they will get the hang of that in no time." Park keepers are also
worried because owl breeding has been unusually early this year - a phenomenon
they believe is evidence of global warming.
Some owls have already raised two broods this Spring, which is extremely rare.
Tawny Owls, famed for their 'tu-whit tu-whoo' hoots in the night are one of the
most common breeds of owl in the UK.
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