May 5, 2013

Western screech owl chicks

Western screech owl chick being fed at PHS wildlife hospital. Photo courtesy Patrick Hogan
This week, we assisted Peninsula Humane Society in their efforts to reunite 3 Western screech owl chicks in Los Altos, CA.

Photo courtesy Patrick Hogan
On Sunday, April 28th, one of the owlets was discovered at the base of a palm tree in a residential backyard. The little owl was taken to PHS' Wildlife Center for care.

A few days later, two more chicks were found.

All 3 owlets were healthy and uninjured despite the 30' fall. They were reunited and housed together at the wildlife hospital, but needed to get back home.

Easier said than done!

Reuniting wildlife takes a tremendous amount of time and effort, especially when it involves constructing a replacement nest. Besides having to build and secure the nest, the process often requires coordinating with the wildlife hospital, the reuniting team, and land owners.

By the time everything was organized, days had passed, and that was a major concern. The parent owls had been without their chicks for 3 nights! Were they still there? Would they take them back?

Together, we decided it was worth the effort. The babies would never be in harms way, and if the reunion failed, the chicks would return to the wildlife hospital and be cared for until they could fly and hunt on their own.

On Sunday, May 5th, WES volunteers met at the residence near North San Antonio Road.

Lindsay had driven to Burlingame and picked up the baby owls and a go-bag of dead pinkie mice, Duane and Rebecca drove from Moss Landing with the owl box and ladder, and Susan, Sammarye, Jeff and Jessica were on hand to help out. 

Duane carried the nest box up the ladder and began securing it to the trunk of the tree, when out from the dried palm fronds flew an adult screech owl - a good sign that at least one parent was still around!

One by one the owlets were placed in their new home. Photo by Lindsay Marshall

Check out the video of the renesting:

One of the most important steps in the reuniting process is monitoring to confirm a successful reunion. In this particular case, we wanted to be sure an adult screech owl entered the box, or, at the very least, perched at the entrance. Neil, the resident and person who'd first discovered the babies, volunteered to keep watch for us.

The next morning, Neil reported hearing a lot of owl activity in the backyard, but he could not be sure an adult entered the box.

After consulting with Patrick Hogan, Wildlife Supervisor at Peninsula Humane Society and strong advocate of reuniting, we agreed it was worth another attempt - we'd leave the babies in the box another night. This time, though, we'd have eyes inside the box!

WES' Duane Titus, an electrical contractor by trade, quickly pieced together a remote monitoring system using an old infrared security camera and small television.

He met Lindsay at the house before noon so she could feed the owlets. We needed to be sure they had a good meal since we weren't certain the parents had tended to them during the night. Timing was important, though. They needed to be fed early, as opposed to later in the day, because we wanted them hungry and vocal come nightfall.

Photo by Lindsay Marshall

Once again, when Duane climbed the ladder to work on the nest box, one of the adult owls flew from the dry fronds. This time it landed in a nearby tree and kept watch, intently. 

Carter, Lindsay's oldest son helped Duane with the electronics.

Show time! With the camera and monitor in place, all we needed were a couple of volunteers willing to give up their evening to monitor the box. Thankfully, we have some amazingly dedicated volunteers who agreed to "babysit".

Susan McCarthy took the first shift, arriving at 7:30. She parked next to the yard, near the tree, and brought the little television monitor into her car to watch covertly. Susan kept in touch with the team, texting what she observed.

By 8:30 there had been little activity, though Neil said he saw the parents flying around the palm tree. 

From Susan:
Date: May 6, 2013 8:43:59 PM PDT
Subject: I have sound turned down. adults may be chucking - someone is.
At about 9:30, Sammarye Lewis arrived for the next shift. The two continued watching and waiting. At one point, they saw an adult owl peek inside the box, then fly off. Finally, right about 10:00 PM, one of the parents entered the box and fed a bug to its chicks.
Date: May 6, 2013 10:03:45 PM PDT 
Subject: Adult just fed baby!
This was an exciting moment for everyone involved - confirmation that the parents had found their young and resumed parental care.

Neil kept watch and continued to report what he saw. The first night after the camera was installed, he said the parents only peeked inside to feed, but never entered the box. The following night, though, both parents were seen entering the box multiple times.

Check out the video of the parents feeding - it was recorded off the tv monitor by Neil. (Thank you, Neil!)


Stay tuned! We're looking at the possibilities of installing a permanent "nest cam" that could stream live video through Ustream, so everyone would be able to watch these lucky babies grow up. The projected cost of the setup it about $600.00. If you'd like to sponsor the Los Altos Screech Owl Nest Cam project, please go HERE.


Anonymous said...

Great job! Question: My owl "box" has a "platform" (which needs a "railing"), but it appears the box the owlets were placed in has no "ledge" or platform. Is the rationale for such design have to do with the box opening being high enough so that IF they can get up to that, then they must be ready to fly? Otherwise, it seems they'll land at the bottom of the tree again. Info on owl boxes would be appreciated

Anonymous said...

3 more lives saved and two happy parents.Good job you guys.I wish more people would take the time to save wildlife.

Maggie said...


Maggie Rufo
Hungry Owl Project

Becky said...

WOW! Great job, ALL! I love what you do and I also love how well you document it with articles and video. Every aspect takes a lot of expertise and time, but the payoff is AWESOME!

Lindsay said...

Yes, that's the way these boxes function. Different box designs are placed for different owl species. Thanks for asking!