Most years, we have at least one animal that is sick, injured or orphaned that we (try our very best) to nurse back to health or hand rear. For those of you that read my blog frequently or follow me on social media, you will be familiar with Magnus my hand reared magpie and DJ my hand reared jay (if you are intrigued, you can read more about Magnus here and DJ here).
This year, we reared a tawny owlet from around 2 weeks old who was recently released back into the wild successfully.
Sadly, one of the owelet’s parents had died and he wasn’t being fed by the remaining parent, so I became his surrogate mother and my step dad, Ian, became dad (Dave, my partner, was too worried Ollie would land on his head to be involved in his care, ha ha!)
The first challenge we faced was where to place the fluffy beast while he grew. Being a carnivore, he produced lots of stinky poop, so living indoors with us was swiftly dismissed. The main section of the bird house, in which Magnus the magpie has her indoor area, seemed the ideal place, but Magnus is incredibly inquisitive, highly territorial and very much, a bully. With it being Magnus’s territory, we didn’t want to cause her upset or scare the owlet. We decided to see how Magnus would react and carried the owlet into the bird house. Magnus all but ignored him! The owlet and Magnus became neighbours for the next couple of months rather successfully.
Ian chose the name Ollie for the owlet, named after the tawny owl his friend reared when he was in school.
Ollie ate one to two day-old chicks each day. When he was small, they had to be served in small sections, but as he grew, he easily swallowed whole chicks. If you think owls are cute, seeing an owl eat their prey whole may change your mind! Ollie looks like a terrifying clockwork monster when he’s gulping his food down!
For the first few weeks, Ollie didn’t do much other than sleep or constantly squawk. As he grew, he became more inquisitive and would hop around the bird house. In comparison, his curiosity didn’t come near to that of Magnus the magpie or DJ the jay, though. They say Owls are wise, but, I’m sorry to tell you; they are, in fact, rather dim as far as birds go!
Ollie’s feather growth over time
As Ollie’s feathers grew, he became more confident with using his wings to get around. We fixed a platform to the exterior of Magnus’s aviary so that it was directly in front of the door to the bird house where Ollie lived. He quickly got the hang of flying to the platform to reach food we placed on it when the door of the bird house was opened. The idea was to create a place that Ollie would associate with being fed in preparation for his release, meaning we could leave supplementary food out for him.
During the day, I would put Ollie on a low branch outside near the bird house so that he knew where he was and so that he was in view from my office window. I would look over to him regularly to check he was there from my desk and he would either be staring at me with his Ferby-like eyes or snoozing. If one of us was to pass by him outside, he would call continuously to get our attentions and rotate his head around in circles in an exaggerated manor, so much so his whole body would bob up and down. Although it looked ridiculous, owl do this to help judge the distance and position of objects they are focusing on. Whereas we can move our eyes around in their sockets to focus, owls eyes are fixed in their skull meaning they have to move their head to look at something directly.
To survive in the wild, Ollie needed to be able to hunt for his own food. It was a concern that he would fly out of earshot and we would lose him and therefore not be able to feed him. Like falconers do with captive birds of prey, we kept him a little bit hungry while he was spending time outdoors to ensure he stuck around.
Next came pouncing practice. Luckily, pouncing on prey is instinctive and Ollie knew exactly what to do. We would drag some food along the ground and Ollie would fly down and land on the food with his talons. After a couple of weeks of practice, we were pretty confident he would be able to catch live prey by himself.
Ollie would spend more time outdoors during the day until the day Dave and I went away on holiday, leaving papa Ian to babysit. Ian has difficulty hearing high pitched sounds and he couldn’t hear little Ollie’s squawky call when he was high up in a tree. The evening Dave and I went away, Ollie spent his first night outside as Ian couldn’t find him. We were all nervous, especially after Ian let us know he hadn’t seen Ollie for a couple of day. The good news was that the food Ian left out on the platform in an evening was done by the following morning. Another animal could have been taking the food, but we were confident it was Ollie. Then, one evening, Ian messaged me to say he had seen Ollie! He had swooped over Ian’s head as he walked by the house, so Ian grabbed some food and took it outside. Ollie flew to his arm to take the food. It was such a relief.
Dave and I returned from holiday and I was over the moon when Ollie came to his platform as I put food on it for him. He looked healthy and happy.
Over the next few weeks, Ollie would come down for food around every other night but then, he stopped coming. We were worried. Maybe another owl had scared him away.
It was a worrying few days but then Ollie showed himself. Ian spotted him on the telephone wires on the road and he had a friend! We were very pleased.
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Ollie hasn’t taken food from his platform for a couple of weeks now, but he is still in the wood. Each evening, I call him and most times I get a response from an owl somewhere out in the darkness not so far away and I am positive it is him. Even better, there are two other adult owls calling too. Hopefully, he’s just made friends and realised he no longer needs his human foster parents.
I hope Ollie sticks around the wood, but it is likely he will move on to find his own territory. We are super happy his future is more positive than his start in life.
What to do if you find an owlet
Owlets leave the nest when then still have fluff and can’t fly very well so are often mistaken for fallen or abandoned chicks. In most cases, the owlet will be perfectly healthy and the parents will be hidden from view. If you find an owlet that you are worried about, the best thing to do is to call your local wildlife rescue who will be able to give you advice based on the circumstances of the owl. Please only remove and owlet if you are certain it is in immediate danger or is injured. In this case, the best place to take it is to a vet for treatment. Always call ahead to ensure they are able to help. Even baby owls have very sharp claws which they will use in defence, so be very careful if you are advised to approach the owlet.
Hand raising wild animals
To give an orphaned or injured wild animal the best chance of survival, it is always best that their care is left to those with experience and knowledge such as wildlife rescues and vets. We have tons of experience raising wild animals over many years and have a lot of support from other local experts. If you have any questions or need some advice, don’t hesitate to get in touch and I shall do my best to point you in the right direction.