Baby Great Horned Owl Release

Friday, June 1, 2018,

I’m a volunteer at Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown. Mostly, I just take photos but sometimes I get involved in cooler, more hands-on stuff. Recently, I participated in the release of a baby Great Horned Owl. I thought some of you might like to hear about it.

This story starts about a day before I even meet the owl. One morning, the Smithtown Animal Shelter received a call about an injured hawk. They went to investigate and realized that the hawk was not a hawk but a baby owl instead. A big baby owl. This is no small bird. Don’t be deceived by the photographs; this owl stands over a foot tall.

It is not a unusual for a baby Great Horned Owl to be found outside of its nest. These owlets are so large and so rambunctious that they sometimes break apart the very nest beneath them. Often, all that’s needed is to place the baby owl on a high branch and allow its parents to tend to it from there.

The folks from the shelter brought the owl to Sweetbriar Nature Center. Sweetbriar specializes in wildlife rehabilitation as well as providing natural sciences education. It’s also a great place to visit, with many animals, displays, and several hiking trails. The techs at Sweetbriar examined the baby owl and found that it was dehydrated and a bit underweight. They kept it for about 24 hours, during which time the owl was hydrated and “fed many mice.” Yum, yum.

The following afternoon, the baby owl was judged ready to be returned to its parents. The hope, and the general plan, is that its parents will find it and continue feeding it till it can fly and forage for itself. Luckily, Great Horned Owls are very dedicated parents. In the past we’ve even been able to add an extra owlet and the parents take care of the newcomer as well as their own babies. That’s how strong their parenting skills are.

John Scarola and I transported the owl back to where the owl had been found. The two homeowners who had called the Smithtown Animal Shelter were able to show us the exact spot. We selected a nearby tree and John secured a new “nest” about twenty feet up. This new nest is actually a re-purposed drugstore shopping basket that has been lined with pine branches with needles. Pine needles, not drugstore needles. Sweetbriar is a rehab facility and we make sure all animals are off the stuff before releasing them. Then we hoisted the owl up in the bin we had transported it in and John placed it in the makeshift nest.

With the two homeowners to watch and be sure the parents returned for their baby, which they did, our work was done. This beautiful baby owl was saved, not just by us, but by a whole team of folks working together. Without the homeowners who found the owl, or the folks at the Smithtown Animal Shelter, or the volunteers and techs at Sweetbriar Nature Center, this story never happens. JK


In Good Hands

Tuesday, April 3, 2012,

I stopped into Sweetbriar Nature Center a couple days back. I stop into Sweetbriar fairly often but on Sunday I was there to hear a lecture on the talon strength of various raptors. That’s raptors as in birds like falcons, hawks, or owls – not those wonderful critters that Steven Spielberg brought to the big screen. While I was there, I got to meet some of the new charges in the rehab room. This is one of the perks to being a volunteer there. You get to see all the really cool stuff. As chance would have it, two of the cooler new patients were raptors. The bird at the top of the post is a baby Great Horned Owl.  These guys are beautiful from the get-go. Super cute when they’re young, and then just plain magnificent as adults. Check out the size of him. I’ve got a cat that isn’t any bigger. This “little” one apparently has some soft tissue damage in one or both of its legs and has difficulty standing upright. He’s greatly improved since his arrival but he’s not quite ready for the great outdoors just yet. Don’t be alarmed by those eyelids. That’s its nictitating membrane. It’s sort of a second eyelid.


On the other hand, there is definitely something wrong with this bird’s eye. This adult Cooper’s Hawk has an infection and its eye is both very swollen and clouded. It was really nasty looking on Sunday but I’m told it’s already looking much better. Another feel-good story at Sweetbriar. JK