Whooo is this?

Dr. Cherney is treating a baby Great Horned Owl, less than 6 weeks old, and we couldn’t resist sharing some pictures.  Black Hawk Wildlife Rehabilitation Project staff brought in this little guy after a recent wind storm knocked down his nest from the top of a 40 foot pine tree.  Our feathered friend did have a sibling who, sadly, didn’t make it.  Our baby owl has a fractured right humerus (upper arm bone for those of us without a medical degree).  Because he was injured, he can’t go right back in the nest.  Right now, he is being cared for by a licensed rehabber.

At Dr. Cherney’s recheck, his wing is healing nicely, has good extension of the wing, and has doubled in size in just one week!  He eats up to 4 whole mice daily (sorry, mice).  Dr. Cherney and the rehabbers feel this guy is going to get a big thumbs up for being able to be released back into the wild!

Cloudy pupil on young Great Horned Owl.

Here’s an interesting note on caring for baby owls.  Baby owls under 6 weeks of age have cloudy pupils and not very good vision (you may be able to see this in the picture to the left).  This means they don’t imprint right when they hatch.

Because our owl is going to start imprinting soon (he’s under 6 weeks still), the caretakers have to be careful he doesn’t imprint on them (or humans in general).  To ensure he imprints on an owl, several steps are taken.  You might think the stuffed animal in the picture (see above) is just staged to be cute, but it actually serves a purpose–to help the baby realize this is what he looks like. There is also a mirror in his cage so he will start to see himself and learn he is an owl.

When it comes time for feeding, the rehabbers do a little “Jim Henson and the Muppets” routine and use an owl puppet to deliver the mice to him.  They can’t show their faces or make any noise. What they are also trying out is having a “foster” owl feed him.  This adult Great Horned Owl can feed and hang around the baby so he begins to imprint on owls.  They have been successful with “foster” owls for both Barred owls and Screech owls in the past.  These foster parents will stay near the young, help to feed and some will even get in the nest and sit over them like a biological parent would.

If the owl were to imprint on a human, it can’t be released back into the wild.  The owl would not join other owls and would always try to stay near humans. The owl would view humans as his family and while they are gorgeous creatures, they aren’t meant to be pets or live inside.  Thanks Black Hawk Wildlife for all the great work you do!