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Baby owls a real hoot

Article Date: 2007-05-04   Source: http://www.tri-cityherald.com   Comments: 0

By Mary Hopkin

Benton City, Washington, U.S.A. - The long, loud hiss sounds as if steam is escaping from the box as Michele Caron moves it slowly across the wooden floor.

Caron lifts the lid to reveal four baby barn owls, their dark eyes peering out from heart-shaped faces. The owlets' bodies are covered in white down and their sharply-hooked beaks hiss fiercely.

A second box holds six more wide-eyed babies - much younger and smaller than their siblings. The smallest is nearly naked - pink with just a hint of down - and its eyes are sealed. At two days old, it weighs less than two ounces.

The owlets were discovered when a farmer in north Richland moved a haystack, disturbing the nest a mother owl likely had been incubating for a month.


Caron, a board member of Pendleton-based Blue Mountain Wildlife, was called to help. Over the past three springs, she's learned to be a surrogate mother for owlets displaced as haystacks disappear in the spring.

"Barn owls really like the haystacks or dark corners they can crawl in," she said.

And often when haystacks are moved or loaded up, owlets are discovered - but the nests already have been destroyed.

"We usually start getting babies in March, but it's happening a little later this year," said Lynn Tompkins, executive director of Blue Mountain Wildlife.

The owls lay their eggs one at a time, with a few days between each. The siblings consequently hatch several days apart, she said.

There were originally 11 owlets in the group Caron is caring for. The largest weighs more than a pound and is estimated to be more than 3 weeks old.

Heidi Newsom, a wildlife biologist for Mid-Columbia River National Wildlife Refuges, said if owlets or other hatchlings are discovered on the ground or in an empty nest, in most cases they should be left alone.

"A lot of people want to take them down or move them somewhere else, but the best thing for the babies is to leave them where they are," she said.

In fact, owls are protected under the migratory bird law, and it is against the law to move them, she said.

Mike Livingston, a district wildlife biologist for the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, said frequently people believe the birds have been abandoned, but most of the time, that isn't true.

"In most cases, the adults are nearby," he said. "Leave them alone and give them space and usually the adults will come back to them."

Owls control rodent populations, which benefits farmers, he added. Field mice and other rodents often eat newly planted seed and alfalfa.

Caron said if farmers know they have owls nesting in haystacks, they can easily build a nesting box nearby - a wooden box on a pedestal - so the owlets can be transferred before the haystack is moved.

"The best time to build the boxes is in January, when the owls are looking for a place to nest," she said.

In some cases, Caron can supply farmers with boxes.

If owlets are found after a haystack is moved, call Blue Mountain Wildlife at 366-0888 or 627-0688, or at 541-278-0215.

Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from http://www.tri-cityherald.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:
2010-04-24 - Benton City woman takes care of baby owls by Kevin McCullen - Benton City, Washington, 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.

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