Abandoned owls have home near Benton City
Article Date: 2009-05-04 Source: http://www.thenewstribune.com
By John Trumbo
Benton City, Washington, U.S.A. - Baby barn owls are not cute or cuddly.
Their beaks are way too big and threatening. And a baby barn owl has a menacing
But that hasn't deterred Michele Caron from caring for the abandoned babes
brought to her Benton City area home each spring.
Caron, whose day job is director of clinical services at the Tri-Cities Cancer
Center, runs an owl nursery on the 25 acres she owns on the fringe of Badger
The property is perfect for owls because of the isolation, the trees that
provide nesting cover and, most importantly, fields full of squirrels and mice.
The property is home to assorted fowl, from roaming chickens to caged pigeons
and several species of owls that come and go. They include barn owls, great
horned owls and western screech owls.
Caron's love of owls was happenstance five years ago when she found three baby
owls alone in a nest after climbing a tree for a closer look.
The mother owl had disappeared, so Caron called around find someone who could
The call to Blue Mountain Wildlife in Pendleton brought an unexpected answer.
They would accept the baby owls for a time, but would return them after a while
so Caron could release them to the wild.
It turned out that Caron's land is perfect owl habitat.
Since then, Caron has become the fostering place for abandoned baby owls.
"Most come from the hay bales in Big Pasco," she said.
Owls like to nest over the winter in the stacks at the Port of Pasco where hay
is stored until being sold and shipped in the spring.
The baby owls literally fall out of the nests when the hay stacks are lifted and
moved, Caron explained.
That's when she gets the phone calls to come for the abandoned birds.
"We only get them when the mother birds go away," Caron said.
Since that first batch in 2004, Caron has accepted, fed and released dozens of
owls to the wild.
The process is called owl hacking. It involves putting the owls in a large
nesting box atop a pole about 12 feet above ground. There is an opening so the
baby owls can get out and exercise their wings, and eventually take flight.
The free access also invites other adult owls to come as foster parents.
"I had one mother bird that accepted and was feeding 19 babies," Caron said.
"It's a good thing owls can't count because if an extra baby owl joins their
clutch they will accept it," Caron said.
Four baby barn owls recently added to her collection came from a nest of seven
in Paterson, Caron said. But three of the baby birds fell away while being taken
to Pasco "somewhere along the freeway," she said.
A four-week-old barn owl is a handful. They are about one-foot tall and with
sharp beak and talons. The only way to handle the birds is with a leather glove,
A hacking box not only provides shelter and access for a foster parent bird, it
also lets Caron keep watch on her birds without them seeing and being imprinted
with her human image. A 3-inch plastic pipe on the side of the box is a chute
Caron uses to introduce dead mice meals to the birds without them seeing her.
Being in ideal owl habitat means there are adult birds nearby to be foster
parents, Caron said.
"Most people want to kill mice and squirrels on their property. We want them to
procreate, procreate. It's more food," Caron said.
"Last year with eight hacking boxes we had 60 owls," she said.
The abundance of natural food also invites coyotes.
"It's a virtual drive-through KFC out here," Caron joked.
Owls can have large clutches, with as many as 11 babies in a single nest.
But the eggs hatch over time, which means that the last to be hatched will not
only be the smallest, but also may become breakfast for an older sibling.
"They are cannibalistic," said Caron, who noted that baby owls will kill each
other to survive.
The hacking program has been so successful that Blue Mountain Wildlife is
inviting the public to an open house at Caron's place May 16.
Caron said the public will be guided into the property from a rendezvous point
that will be publicized soon.
The tour will include the hacking boxes and observing owls that have been
recently picked up and are in cages in a small barn that serves as an owl
Abandoned baby owls can appear unfriendly and threatening, but that's a good
thing, Caron said.
"We like it when they don't like us. The best releases are when they don't look
back," she 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.
2010-04-24 - Benton City woman takes care of baby owls
by Kevin McCullen - Benton City, Washington, U.S.A.
2009-05-21 - Burrowing owl experts gather in Mid-Columbia by John Trumbo - Umatilla, Oregon, 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.
2005-04-05 - Young and homeless by John Trumbo - Kennewick, Washington, U.S.A.
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