Pat Hatch's PhotoJournal

Brancher – Today’s Photo Updates

This guy is branching but not venturing too far from the nest yet. I would guess maybe 2 weeks from fledging.


This guy popped up right in front of the baby owl. He's either really brave or he's paying protection money to mom, who was nearby.

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Owl Update

The owlet has begun to branch but it was cool and breezy today so it was hunkered down in the nest. Mom was in a nearby oak tree.

I was using a 400 mm telezoom with a Better Beamer to flash fill the shadows. Mom's eyes are a little red because of the flash illuminating her retinas slightly.

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The Owls Have Been Busy…

I was beginning to wonder if the owl family was coming back this year.

Although I had heard them in December as usual, the female did not lay her eggs until the middle of January, which is much later than normal.  Blame it on global warming, I guess.  I noticed the first chick about the middle of February, but something didn't look right to me.  It seemed like there might have been a new (younger) female just from the way she looked sitting in the nest.  It seemed like she was smaller than our regular mom, but I wasn't sure.  Perhaps the hollow in the tree that acts as their nest was getting deeper, who knows.

So we had some excitement on February 24th, a Monday.  I got a call early that morning from Vince, a neighbor, who had driven by and saw a baby on the ground at the base of the tree.  Ron and I went to investigate and found the little one not looking too well all balled up and shivering from the cold.  Vince said he had seen what looked liked two owls fighting in midair previously.  My theory about what happened is that the nest was probably attacked by a red shouldered hawk that got one of the babies but probably dropped it when it was attacked by the mother owl.  I noticed right away that both owl adults were nearby and highly agitated, hooting and clacking like crazy.  But it was obvious that they couldn't do anything for the baby on the ground.  Most of the wildlife folks I've spoken to, the owl experts, advise that the first choice is to try and put the baby owl back in the nest, if possible.  That gives them the best chance for survival.

Ron and I gathered up a 24-foot extension ladder, a pair of gloves, some towels, and a golf umbrella.  I knew from previous rescues that I would need the umbrella to fend off the adults when attempting to pick up the baby.  Both adults were extremely excited and agitated and watching our every move.  The nest is about 30 feet in the air, so the ladder wouldn't get me all the way up to the nest, and I knew I would have to climb the last 6 feet or so.  This was not looking good, but I decided to at least give it a try.  I got up to the top of the ladder, first to see if I could get to the nest, then I would return for the little one.  I got up to the top and was getting situated to climb on to a branch.  Both adults were in the tree nearby making a commotion, so I knew I would probably be attacked.  Out of nowhere, I felt what I thought was a branch falling on my head from above.  I saw my ball cap go flying off my head.  It took me a second or two to realize what had happened; I was stunned momentarily and because I had heard no approaching sound, I wasn't sure it had been the owls.  A moment later I felt the second blow, and like on 9/11 when the second plane hit, I immediately knew I had been attacked by the owls.  I now know why these attacks have been fatal in the past.  I felt like I had been mugged like on one of those knockout games that have been in the news recently.  As soon as I figured out what had happened, I made a hasty retreat down the ladder.

What we really needed was a 2-man cherry picker that could go that high, with someone holding the golf umbrella while the other person handled the owlet.

I can verify a couple of things that are well-known about owls:  one, their flight is definitely silent and stealthy, as I never heard the owls coming, and, two, the talons on these raptors are deadly, their prey have no chance, and I have the scars on my head to prove it!

Time for plan B.  Ron and I put a towel around the baby to keep it warm, got it into a canvas bag, and drove it to the local Humane Society.  Like before when this happened, the baby got transported to the Florida Wildlife Hospital near Melbourne, Florida and a few days later was moved to The Avian Reconditioning Center in Apopka, FL, where it was united with a surrogate Great Horned owl mother.  Special thanks to Dee at the former and to Carol at the latter for the work they do in rescuing these beautiful birds.  Please consider donating to both of these organizations, they do great work.  You can visit their web sites to see some of their patients!  Check out Gulliver, the surrogate mother, at the Apopka facility.  Carol has advised that the little one is doing exquisitely with its new mom, and says she hopes to release the owlet here in Vero near the nest in about 4 to 6 weeks.

So, things have returned to normal at the owl residence.  Here are a few photos from yesterday:

The one remaining owlet, missing its sibling in Apopka!

Here is mom, head rotated 180 degrees to observe the camera.

This is dad, none too happy to see me, I think.

Comparing the photos this year to last, I now think this is the same mother owl. The dad looks the same, too. I've often wondered where the younger owls go. Once they fledge, it seems like we never see them again.

Thanks also to the rest of the neighbors who assisted in this rescue: Dennis, Garrick, Rebecca and Kristina.

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