May 9, 2012

Saw-whet saga continues

Near Memorial Park, Loma Mar, CA, where the owlet was discovered.

Last week we wrote about the little orphan saw-whet owl, found on a road in Loma Mar, CA. This week, efforts to reunite it with its wild family continued:

We reached out to the birding community, asking for help in locating the owlet's family and received a quick response from Jeff and Jessica, a couple from Half Moon Bay.

Monday evening, Jeff and Jessica set out to look for a nest or find an adult saw-whet in the area where the baby was found. Here is their account:

Jeff scanning for owls or signs of a nest.
We were able to find the location easily, and actually talked to one of the rangers who knew exactly where the bird was found. We searched the trees immediately surrounding that spot pretty thoroughly during the light and couldn't find any sign of owls - either roosting, pellets/whitewash, or cries from the nestlings. 
As it got dark, still no sign of owls. On and off we heard some noises that COULD have been nestlings, but nothing conclusive and more likely just standard forest noise as the night was coming and animals were either bedding down or waking up. 
However, after waiting for a few minutes of full darkness, we played some recorded Saw-whet cries. That brought cries in response from what sounded like pretty high above. Then a hoot sequence brought a long sequence of hoots in response - again from what sounded like pretty high up in the conifers. 
The second time we played the hoots, an owl flew down for a closer look. We were able to watch it for a while and then is gradually lost interest. We repeated the hoots again in a slightly different area and it again came in (this time swooping to within a couple feet of the iPod!) to investigate. 
I don't know enough about owl behavior to know if this means the owl we saw was protecting a nest... or looking for a new mate since the original nest failed... But there is definitely at least one adult Saw-whet in that spot.

With this new information, we consulted raptor reuniting specialist, Anne Miller, in Alabama. She felt we should place the owlet in a nest-basket and try calling in the adult. First, though, we needed to see how the baby owl would act in the basket - would it stay inside, or try to get out?

Dress rehearsal at the Peninsula Humane Society Wildlife Care Center: Patrick and his team created a wonderful nest-basket with a cover - almost like a cavity nest! Check out the video of the little owl in his new digs:

Now it was time for the real deal.

Tuesday evening, Duane and Rebecca rendezvoused with their newly indoctrinated wildlife responders, Jeff and Jessica, who had picked up the owlet, nest-basket and go-bag from the Wildlife Care Center.

The team started by looking for a suitable tree. Then, Duane got to work on hooking up the infrared camera while Jeff, Jessica and Rebecca attached branches and foliage to the basket.

Rebecca also attached a piece of plastic netting on the top of the basket. She was concerned that the active brancher might climb out, flutter to the forest floor and be lost.
Once everything was in place, the owlet was set inside the nest-basket. Duane and Rebecca monitored the scene from the rescue vehicle, while Jeff and Jessica, hidden in the brush below the owlet, played saw-whet vocalizations, hoping to attract its parent.

At near 10:00 pm, after a good hour of trying and not a single response from an adult saw-whet, the team called it a night and started packing up.

Rebecca untied the basket and was gently lowering it, when she realized the owlet was missing. Sure enough, the owlet had managed to escape under the cardboard top! Panic set in - the thought of trying to find a small brown and buff colored creature on the forest floor in the dark! It wasn't more than 30 seconds before he was found and 
returned to his basket where he was offered a meal - a thawed dead mouse.

With the owlet in care at the Wildlife Care Center, we're still hoping the owlet can be returned to his wild home. Perhaps someone in the Loma Mar area will allow us to build a small mew that can be used as a soft-release enclosure. Anyone interested should contact

Just to give some perspective, this map shows the region and the territory covered. 
While the process of reuniting wild babies can be labor intensive, it is in the animal's best interest.

THANK YOU!!!! to everyone who helped in these efforts to reunite the little owl!