Photo courtesy of Donald Hood/Status Image Photography|
The great horned owl found on Danville Road Southwest in front of Cedar Ridge Middle School is considered a "brancher," not yet able to fly. He is capable of surviving outside the nest but still needs his mother to feed him.
Little bird lost
Baby owl rescued from roadway in Decatur, reunited with family
By Seth Burkett
email@example.com · 340-2355
Wildlife volunteers working Tuesday to reunite a young owl with his mother succeeded in putting the little guy in touch with the next best thing — a sibling.
Apparently, the young owls fell from a nest high in the branches of a pine in front of Status Image Photography, across from Cedar Ridge Middle School on Danville Road Southwest.
The tree is only a few feet from the busy roadway where Gena Cooper of Danville spotted the owl while driving to work at about 6 a.m. Tuesday.
"The poor thing was in the middle of the road. Everybody was swerving to avoid him. I pulled a U-turn and pulled up in the driveway. I ran out and threw a blanket over him and put him in the back of the truck," Cooper said.
Cooper took the owl home and began making phone calls. She eventually found a Decatur couple who help with owl relocations.
Gene and Theresa Lowery, volunteers with the Alabama Wildlife Center at Oak Mountain State Park in Pelham, south of Birmingham, said the great horned owl Cooper found is considered a "brancher."
Not yet able to fly, he hangs on the nest and wanders onto nearby branches. He is capable of surviving outside the nest but still needs his mother to feed him.
The bird's sex remained unknown, but everyone seemed comfortable calling it "he."
After a checkup at the Wildlife Center, the owl was returned to his home, with hopes of attracting the mother.
"They stay in the area and nest here for years, so we don't really have any doubt that she'll show up," Theresa Lowery said.
When they played an owl distress call, a recording of a baby owl's screeches, the mother flew over. But, suspicious of the humans nearby, she didn't stop.
The little owl was not making the sound himself.
"It's really an 'I'm hungry!' call, and he's probably not that hungry because he didn't eat the mouse he had for lunch," said Lowery.
They placed the little owl on a branch in a nearby thicket and played the recording again. After several tries, the mother still had not returned.
As the sky deepened from purple to black and the moon began to shine over the thicket, another owl voice was heard. It was not the mother's voice, but another little owl making the same cry as that on the recording.
Another young owl
The Lowerys' suspicion that more baby owls had fallen from the nest were confirmed. A brother or sister had been hiding in the bushes nearby all along.
"When the two siblings started communicating, that was it. He jumped out of the tree where I put him and headed right over in the direction the sound was coming from," said Gene Lowery.
He said the mother probably knew the location of the other owlet and should now be able to reunite with the one Cooper found.
"As long as they're under protective cover and she knows where they are, she'll come feed them," said Theresa Lowery.
Risk of predators
Being near the ground puts the young owls at greater risk for predators, but in the thicket, they can jump from branch to branch to get away from trouble, Gene Lowery said.
The only thing left to do was hope the little guy's luck holds out.
He was certainly lucky to be taken under the wing of an owl enthusiast like Cooper, who collects all sorts of owl memorabilia and stuffed animals.
She once found a baby screech owl stuck on a piece of driftwood following a flood and raised it in her bedroom on a steady diet of field mice until he was grown enough to release into a barn, she said.
He was also fortunate a retired couple in the community recently took up the hobby of helping baby owls find their parents. The Lowerys began working with the Wildlife Center's raptor network in March.
Anne Miller, the rehab center's director, said the center cares for about 2,500 injured and orphaned native animals every year with the intention of returning them to the wild. Most of the animals have been harmed as a result of human activity.
"We've come to understand that a lot of the baby animals that are brought to us are not really orphans. Everyone's heard that old wives' tale that if you touch a baby animal, the mother won't take it back. That's just not true. They want their babies back. ... Great horned owls will even take in other babies that aren't their own if their already raising other children. They're very devoted parents," Miller said.
CD of wildlife sounds
The task of reuniting the animals prompted her to create a compact disc of wildlife sounds accompanied by an instructional booklet.
"You want to be there to make sure the parents make contact with the babies. I realized that instead of just waiting for an accidental meeting, I could play a recording of the baby calling the parents. You're talking their language once you start playing that recording," Miller said.
Miller said the owl found Tuesday will probably begin flying in about a week. The great horned owl, known for its large ear tufts, is an endangered species.
Donald Hood of Status Image Photography said the discovery of the baby owls will delay crews from cutting trees at the studio's new location.
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