Baby Great Horned Owl given a second chance


On Monday May, 4 a Great Horned Owl chick, only a few weeks old was discovered in a garage in Idaho Falls. Presumably the owl had been abandoned by its parents. Though it is unknown why the owl was abandoned, Great Horned Owl parents are frequently struck and killed by cars on busy thoroughfares.

Great Horned Owl 4-5, named for his date of admission to Teton Raptor Center, was brought to the world class rehabilitation facility in need of expert care and someone to find him a new home.

In 1991 Roger Smith and Margret Creel, locals to the Teton region, noticed that increased human activities in the Jackson Hole Valley was having a negative impact on the birds of prey that play a crucial role near the top of the Greater Yellowstone food web. With humble beginnings, the Creels did all they could to rehabilitate injured eagles, owls, hawks and other raptors, many of which had suffered catastrophic injuries due to car strikes, all from their home in Jackson, Wyoming. They dreamed of one day starting a full rehabilitation center with a team of scientists, veterinarians, and educators who would complete their vision.

Seventeen years later, their dream became a reality as the highly philanthropic local community rallied behind the newly labeled Teton Raptor Center and construction began to adapt the historic Hardeman Barns into a world-class raptor rehabilitation and education facility. Since their inception, the center has treated and re-released hundreds of birds back into the wild from all over Wyoming, Montana and Idaho.

When Great Horned Owl 4-5 arrived at the center he was stressed and in poor shape. The people who discovered the owl attempted to feed the bird elk meat which, while well intentioned, is dangerous for the bird.

“They are carnivorous birds but they need the meat, the fur, the skin, and the bones in order to get the proper ratios of the nutrients needed to grow into a healthy owl”. Says Meghan Warren, the avian care director at the Teton Raptor Center.

Feeding a baby owl can also harm the bird later in life as baby owls are easily impressionable. If they are being fed by humans “they can begin to believe that they themselves are humans or that humans are just big raptors” according to Sheena Patel, Teton Raptor Center’s clinic coordinator. Birds that associate humans with food don’t always know what to hunt in the wild.

To prevent the risk of imprinting and to keep the wild bird wild, Patel and her colleague Warren must dress in camouflage so that any positive interactions with the bird are not associated with humans. This camouflage is not worn when the bird is undergoing more frightening situations like being planted in the nest or examined because the risk of imprinting is far lower.

After just a week of careful feeding and monitoring, Teton Raptor Center decided the owl was ready to find a new home. An anonymous birder from Idaho proved to know exactly the place for the bird to find a set of adoptive wild parents.

In an undisclosed location, Patel carefully placed the bird into the nest with two similar aged chicks while the new parents cautiously watched from a distance. “Most always a bird will care for young placed in its nest as long as it is of the same species.

Atop his new nest, Great Horned Owl 4-5 could not have looked more at home. The bird has been given a second chance at life.