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Owls raising young in very public places - like Whiskey Row

Article Date: 2009-04-18   Source:   Comments: 2

By Joanna Dodder Nellans

Prescott, Arizona, U.S.A. - Great horned owls have chosen to raise their young in some very public places in the Prescott region this year.

One of the sites probably has more people passing by than about any spot in the region: the Whiskey Row side of the county courthouse in the heart of Prescott.

Other great horned owls are raising their young at two local home improvement stores. At Home Depot in Prescott Valley, they built a nest on top of a bag of soil high atop a rack in the store's outdoor canopy area, manager Ron Straka related.

"We just leave them alone," Straka said. "With those talons, we don't want to mess with them."

Shoppers and employees often see the parents hanging out on the steel girders.

Yet another family lives in a tree near the Circle K store at the corner of College Heights and Willow Creek Road.

"Great horned owls are adaptable to the presence of people, unlike some of the other owl species," said Bill Van Pelt, non-game birds and mammals program manager for the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

That's probably one reason why they are the most common owl in Arizona. They also are the state's largest owl, with a four-foot wingspan, he said. They aren't a raptor to mess with, especially when they are protecting their young.

Many of the regulars who hang out or walk around the courthouse plaza have noticed the owls and their babies nesting on a ledge on the west side of the courthouse, facing Whiskey Row. The owls don't seem to mind when people stop to stare.

Among the regulars are Terry and Eve Shorb, who also happen to write, lecture and publish materials about wildlife and human relations.

Ravens nested on the east face of the courthouse for several years before county workers apparently destroyed their nest, and then they built one on the west side, the Shorbs related.

The great horned owls stole the ravens' nest last year, the Shorbs said. This year they watched the owls return and court again, later producing two young.

These owls and other Arizona birds are at the fledgling stage now, flapping and strengthening their wings as they prepare for their first flights.

Unfortunately, one of the courthouse fledglings found out that can be a dangerous exercise during the high winds that have buffeted the region recently.

A gust of wind apparently blew the owl off the courthouse while he was flapping his wings Wednesday.

The Shorbs were taking their usual walk around the courthouse plaza when they saw that several plaza "regulars" had gathered around to protect the injured bird.

The Shorbs put him in a box and took him to the Heritage Park Zoological Sanctuary in Prescott.

The zoo takes in more than 150 wild animals each year, Director Pam McLaren related. People bring animals they have found in the wild, and the zoo has volunteers who transport them to rehabilitation centers such as the state's Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center, which helps more than 1,000 animals each year.

Spring is an especially busy time of year for the zoo and Adobe Mountain because of all the baby wildlife out there. Sometimes people think they need help when they don't.

The Game and Fish Department warns that picking up baby wildlife often produces a death sentence because they can't live without their mothers. The mother generally is nearby, but just hiding from the person.

McLaren asks well-meaning people to call the zoo before picking up a wild animal. It might be a good idea to put fledgling birds back into their nests, or just leave them alone so they can rest and try to fly back into their nests. Call 778-4242 days, or 602-509-2825 after hours.

Wildlife officials note that state and federal laws protect many wild animals such as owls, so people cannot injure or keep them. The law can hold people responsible when their unrestrained pets injure wildlife, too.

Sometimes injured animals really do need help, such as the courthouse owl.

The zoo has several veterinarians who volunteer their services for injured wildlife, and Dr. Miles Killian checked out the owl Wednesday. An x-ray found he has a possible head fracture, but he has a chance to return to the wild and possibly even his nest, related Game and Fish volunteer Russell Smith of Chino Valley, who took the owl down to Adobe Mountain near Phoenix.

Adobe Mountain has taken in 27 great horned owls within the past month, Smith said, and it's likely to get four times that many by the time spring is over.

The day after the one courthouse fledgling fell to the ground, his sibling was flying around successfully.

The owls likely will stick around a bit while they teach their young to hunt. While they prefer rodents, they also might be eating a few of the plentiful pigeons in downtown Prescott, Van Pelt said.

After the young owls set out on their own, family members might stay in the area.

And they just might return next year to raise another family.

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

Related Articles:
2009-05-26 - Couple saves owl near Paulden home by Joanna Dodder Nellans - Prescott, Arizona, U.S.A.
2009-05-16 - Rescued owl gets second chance by Joanna Dodder Nellans - Prescott, Arizona, U.S.A.
2006-02-06 - The Foxes and the Owls - Prescott, Arizona, U.S.A.

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On 2009-05-20, from Ca.,by way of Northern Minn. wrote: "This was helpful to me because today when I was at Lowes garden center there were three magnificent owls(Mother, Father and adorable Baby) inthe rafters. Wow was that fun, and now I know what kind they were and will go to the courthouse soon to see more! Thanks."


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