Owl 'foster parents' adopt displaced chicks, watch out for babies during nesting season
Article Date: 2009-04-30 Source: http://www.fortcollinsnow.com
By Dan England
Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S.A. - A pair of great-horned owls are among the so-called ''education birds'' that
live in the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program. For food and shelter, it's the
permanently injured birds' job to help educate students (and adults) about
raptors by making public appearances.
But starting around this time until late August - prime nesting season for many
raptors - it's the pair's job to act as foster parents.
Gail Kratz, medical director for the raptor program in Fort Collins, hopes the
owls aren't as busy as they were last year.
Among the nasty storms that blew apart nests and displaced baby owls, including
last May's tornado, unknowing tree trimmers cut down branches that had nests in
them. It's a problem that occurs about a half-dozen times a year during the
raptors' breeding season, and though that doesn't seem like much, that could
mean the center is caring for 18 babies or more because of tree trimmers'
The program's already had its first shattered nest of the year, an owl's home
inside a Cottonwood branch cavity on Weld County Road 31 between Weld 76 and 78.
The branches were hanging over Weld 31, and Weld County hired a contractor to
sheer them away.
Unfortunately cavity nests can be hard to spot - it's not like they're huge
piles of twigs and sticks like other bird nests - and the contractor didn't make
the connection after spotting the baby owls' parents hanging around nearby.
The contractor felt terrible about it - he even wrapped a jacket around the
babies to protect them - but the branch fell as far as 30 feet and landed right
on the road, and two of the three babies were killed.
The third survived, however, and that's the happy ending. The chick was probably
4 weeks old at the time, and so Kratz treated it like the infants that go
through the program. She brought it through the ''critical care'' unit and after
assessing that it was OK, she introduced it to ''Mama Owl,'' a hand puppet that
she could put on a post.
''If they're young enough, they're comforted by it,'' Kratz said. ''Mama Owl has
raised a lot of babies.''
It didn't get much beyond that point for the third chick, as a couple weeks ago,
soon after the accident, the program ''re-nested'' the baby and another owl
chick who fell out of its nest onto a loading dock and somehow survived the
fall. They used a wicker basket and materials from the old nesting site. Wicker
baskets resemble old nests and are biodegradable, and since owls rarely make
their own, they're not exactly picky about where they stay.
Great horned owls are great parents, Kratz said, and will take in other chicks
as long as they match in age (so one chick doesn't eat another).
''They technically don't even know it's not their baby,'' she said. ''I've never
had it not work. Once the chick makes food noises, the instinct is so strong
that for the most part it's very successful.''
The problem with that is the babies are hard to raise because of the time their
parents invest in them. Usually chicks are born in late February and won't leave
the nest until late September. And because owls are great providers, the babies
can eat up to eight mice a day by the time they leave the raptor program. That's
a strain on what Kratz calls the program's ''rodent resource.''
They can also be a strain on the program's foster parents. In just their first
year of foster parenting, the two owls raised 15 babies last year, and at one
point they raised nine at once. And you thought Jon and Kate were busy because
of their ''plus 8.''
''They really did a great job,'' Kratz said. ''I just hope we don't have to use
them as much this year.''
Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from http://www.fortcollinsnow.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.
2009-06-25 - Spotted Owls Face Genetic Bottleneck by Emily Sohn - Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S.A.
2006-03-24 - Baby owls accidentally evicted from cut-down trees by Kevin Darst - Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S.A.
2004-06-24 - Injured owl takes flight after surgery by Erin Cox - Fort Collins, Colorado, U.S.A.
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