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April 8, 2011

Baby Raptors on the Buddy System

Pairing up baby birds is one way the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center helps owls and hawks grow up

The Humane Society of the United States / The Fund for Animals

  • A baby barn owl investigates a plush owl at the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, Spring 2011. The HSUS

  • A baby barn owl begins to snuggle up to his plush friend at the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, Spring 2011. The HSUS

  • A baby barn owl snuggles with a plush friend at the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, Spring 2011. The HSUS

  • An older great horned owlet at the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, Spring 2011. The HSUS

  • A great horned owlet in good hands at the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, Spring 2011. The HSUS

  • Taking a sneak peak of a trio red-tailed hawks at the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, Spring 2011. The HSUS

  • The three red-tailed hawk babies are also growing up at the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, Spring 2011. The HSUS

  • The red-tailed hawk babies looking for food at the Fund for Animals Wildlife Center, Spring 2011. The HSUS

by Julie Hauserman

Thirteen is turning out to be a lucky number for a group of baby owls at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona, Calif. Since wild owls are always raised in groups, having 13 babies together at the center ensures that they have plenty of company while they grow strong enough to be returned to the wild.

Spring always brings an influx of baby critters at the Wildlife Center. The baby owls’ story is a familiar one: they were brought to the center after they fell from their nests. It is usually best to leave babies on the ground and watch to see if their parents are standing guard nearby. But sometimes well-intentioned people pick the babies up thinking they are in distress, and then they bring them to rescue and rehabilitation groups like the Wildlife Center. In some cases, it is clear that the birds need to be relocated for their own safety; one of the baby owls at the Wildlife Center came from a nest located in a busy shopping plaza.

“These are perfectly healthy babies that were just in unfortunate circumstances,” says Wildlife Center Director Ali Crumpacker.

The crowd of fluffy baby great horned owls and barn owls all enthusiastically eat a steady diet of specially prepared food at the Wildlife Center. But in the wild, great horned owls often prey on the smaller barn owls. That presented a brief dilemma for rehabilitation.

“If the barn owls are constantly hearing great horned owls, they are constantly in a state of fear,”  Crumpacker said.

Crumpacker reached out to colleagues at a raptor rescue group in Lakeside, Calif. called Sky Hunters. Sky Hunters agreed to take the barn owls, and the Wildlife Center, in turn, agreed to take in some of Sky Hunters’ baby great horned owls for rehabilitation. 

The center has also been raising a trio of baby red-tailed hawks.

All the babies will likely stay at the Wildlife Center for about three months. They’ll grow their all-important wing feathers, then develop their flying muscles in an outdoor flight cage.

“We will make sure that they can maneuver properly,” Crumpacker says, “and then they will be released back into the wild where they belong.”

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