Wildlife Care Center Reunites Baby Great Horned Owl with Parents

By Ali Berman, Communications Manager

One of the more common reasons we see young animals in the Wildlife Care Center isn’t because they are injured, it’s because they have been kidnapped by well-intentioned Good Samaritans. This mistake may mean the young animal can’t be reintroduced to the parent if they’ve been separated for more than 48 hours; the parent may get hurt if it spooks and flies or runs into traffic; or you might end up just taking the animal back where you found it. Don’t want to be another statistic? Follow this easy flow chart.

Sometimes the answer isn’t so clear-cut. Back in early March we received a baby Great Horned Owl that had been found with its dead sibling and destroyed nest in Vancouver, Washington. A storm blew the nest out of the tree leaving the bird was soaked, cold, and in need of our help. While it isn’t uncommon to find young Great Horned Owls on the ground under their nest (they might get blown out, but they can climb back up!), this bird would have died of hypothermia if left alone. We warmed the bird up gently and made sure nothing else was physically wrong with it before working on our plan: get the parents to continue caring for it. How, you might ask?

The young Great Horned Owl seen roughly a week after it was reunited with its parents. Photo by Scott Carpenter

First, make sure the parents are still in the area. Later that day one of our volunteers located the nest (or at least where it had been) and attempted to spot the parents—they were both there. Great Horned Owls are such good parents that rehabilitators have been able to reunite owl parents with their babies (and in some cases even babies from other parents) after more than a week of separation. Luckily, it took us only a couple of days to stabilize our little patient and get it back to the tree.

Second, scope out the area, find an appropriate place to put the baby back, and do so. The initial tree was close to a high-traffic area, but there were other suitable trees nearby. We placed the nest our volunteer made (since the original nest had been destroyed) and the young bird on the highest branch we could reach and promptly left the area. Though we did not see the parents at this time, they had been spotted the day before.

Third, go back to make sure the plan worked. The next afternoon another volunteer checked on the bird, and the parents were there! Three weeks later the owlet has tripled in size and is being cared for by the parents. Though the bird isn’t out of the woods yet (most raptors don’t make it through their first year of life), it got the chance many young ones in our care never do: to be raised by their parents. Young birds learn much from their parents that is difficult to impossible for us to teach them in captivity. If you think you have found a young animal that needs help, please call us first (503-292-0304, seven days a week) so we can make sure intervention is the right choice.

Photographer Scott Carpenter was able to discreetly observe the nest to check in on the young owl and to take a few photos, showing this delightful family reunion.

Photo by Scott Carpenter
The young Great Horned Owl spotted with one of its parents three weeks after it was put back in its nest. Photo by Scott Carpenter

Every year the Wildlife Care Center treats 3,000 injured or orphaned native animals. If you would like to make a donation to support our wildlife rehabilitation work at the Wildlife Care Center, click here.