When it’s time to remove a tree containing a nest, what’s the right thing to do? Call the experts at the Wildlife Lodge and Clinic, of course.
At least, that’s what happened this past March when a tree containing a nest with a pair of Great Horned Owl eggs was scheduled to be taken down.
“We tried to get them to wait to cut it down until they hatched but it would be a few more weeks,” said Lynn Posey, director of the Lodge. “So, we knew we had to try to move the eggs instead.”
To keep the eggs safe, workers lowered the branch containing the nest slowly to the ground and packed them in rags and heat packs to keep them warm. Next, a volunteer brought the eggs to an incubator at the Wildlife Lodge and Clinic where they sat for a few weeks until hatching.
“The Lodge bought the incubator specifically for the owls,” Posey said, noting the importance donations play for the nonprofit.
“We couldn’t get these things without people who donate,” she said.
The incubator, which is approximately 20 inches in diameter, turns the eggs in addition to keeping them warm.
“The owls will turn the eggs in the nest so that they aren’t stuck in one spot,” Posey said.
The fact that the eggs hatched successfully is rare, she added. “That incubator was definitely worth the money.”
After hatching, volunteers had to act fast to make sure the first thing the owlets saw was another Great Horned Owl.
“They needed to see another owl to imprint on. If they had seen a person, they might think they are a person and try to hang out with humans,” Posey said. “So, we had to find a Great Horned Owl.”
Owlets begin to see after three to four days so time was ticking to find that owl. Fortunately, Saving Our Avian Resources, or SOAR, a group that rehabilitates raptors stabilized by the Lodge, had a Great Horned Owl to interact with the owlets. SOAR is based in Dedham, Iowa.
A volunteer drove the owlets to SOAR, where they were placed with other owlets and adult Great Horned Owls that teach the young how to properly eat and take care of themselves. The owlets eat small pieces of meat while they are young.
“They eventually go on what they would eat in the wild, like mice, but when they are little, they’ll eat a good cut of stew meat cut up really small,” Posey said, noting that at only four weeks the owlets can eat up to 15 mice per day.
At approximately eight weeks the owlets started stretching their wings by doing short low flights. They can officially fly typically around the 10- to 12-week mark. SOAR has indoor flight lanes for orphaned birds like the Great Horned Owls to safely learn how to fly.
Today, the owls are doing well and likely will be released in the fall, Posey said.
“I’m just glad we were able to save them,” she said. “It’s pretty rare to hatch eggs without a mom and have them grow into healthy birds.”