A gust of wind that hit a nest just right, placement in a precarious branch, or just plain bad luck: Audubon staff don’t know exactly what happened, but one morning concerned homeowners in Winter Garden woke up and found a Great Horned Owl chick on the ground, looking confused and vulnerable.
We have officially begun baby raptor season in Florida, which brings a wide range of these quandaries to the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey. What do you do when you find a raptor chick on the ground?
First, Laura VonMutius, Center for Birds of Prey Education Manager, explains, you need to take a close look at the owlet.
“We usually try to judge how old the baby is. Does it have brown-colored feathers or is it still really fluffy and gray? Are there any obvious injuries?”
If the owlet is old enough, it may be able to survive on its own.
Second, look at the surrounding landscape. “Are the parents still around?” VonMutius continues, “Are predators around?”
Once again, if the owl chick is older and the parents are present, wait and see if the family is able to feed and care for the owlet without human intervention.
However, if the chick is gray and fluffy, the nest is too high for an easy nest return, or if predators are present, it is time to call the Center for Birds of Prey or another licensed wildlife rehabber.
The Great Horned Owl chick from Winter Garden was quite small, but un-injured, so after a once-over from staff at the Center for Birds of Prey Raptor Clinic, it was ready for a nest return.
Jim Lott - a volunteer tree climber - first reconstructed a nest on a small wooden platform to replace the destroyed nest. Using a small duffle to keep the bird calm, Lott pulled the owlet from the ground to the new platform, carefully transferring the chick to its new bed of pine needles.
Since the return on February 9, the parents have fed and cared for the voracious chick, which has been steadily growing, no worse for wear after the initial fall. Soon, the owlet will begin exploring its home tree, before eventually fledging into the wild.