This is a story about a baby Great Horned owl that somehow got away from its nest and ended up in my backyard scared and confused. I first noticed the baby owl early one Saturday morning in late April squatting on the ground near my fence line. My backyard has more than ten very large redwood trees so I assumed the baby fell from a nest high up in one of the trees. The baby owl didn’t look injured while on the ground, just totally out of place as owls hardly ever walk on the ground. They live in trees high above the ground away from domestic and other wild animals.
I could tell by the size of the baby owl that it was about 2 or 3 months old but seemingly unable to fly. Its eyes were big and bright never once taking them off of me. It even had the beginnings of ear tufts which are so characteristic of adult Great Horned owls. When I approached the owl, it made a loud chattering noise which I later learned was a signal to stay away. I didn’t have any intention of getting any closer as the baby owl was telling me in owl speak unknowingly to keep my distance or else. At first, I was conflicted as to what to do with this baby owl. I had never been this close to an owl before, much less a baby owl unable to fly that had apparently lost its way and now was separated from its parents. I looked up in the trees hoping to find the nest or perhaps see one of the parent owls keeping watch. I couldn’t spot a nest but I think I saw the outline of a large bird partially hidden behind a large branch which I assumed could be one of the parents. ! didn’t hear any sounds or detect any movements coming from the baby owl or the large bird in the tree. Only the sound of the wind separated the tension between a frightened little baby Great Horned owl and its worried parent.
I thought of leaving the baby owl alone and letting nature take its course. Surely it would gain enough strength in time to fly up to one of the lower hanging branches of the nearest redwood tree. From there it would reunite with its parent and life would be good. I stood to watch over the baby owl for several hours but it was clear that the baby just wasn’t ready to fly yet. So, I decided to get a small animal carrier from the next-door neighbor and take the baby owl to the Napa Wildlife Rescue where they would check the bird for injuries and figure out what to do about re-nesting. I just knew I had to get the baby owl off the ground because we have cats in the neighborhood who roam the area day and night. With the help of a neighbor, we threw a towel over the little owl and gently guided him into the carrier. He was not a happy camper but out of danger for the moment.
The staff at the Napa Wildlife Rescue were so helpful by taking the baby owl after working hours and getting it something to eat. The plan was to stabilize the baby for a couple of days at the rescue center and then try to re-nest it in my backyard where it had come from. A person named Carol Poole, the president of Napa Wildlife Rescue coordinated the re-nesting plan. After a couple of days at the Wildlife Center, Carol brought the baby owl back to my house. She also brought the makings of a temporary nest with her which we set up in an isolated spot in the backyard. The temporary nest consisted of a large tree branch camouflaged by several smaller branches from a scrub oak tree. After we placed the carrier next to the nest, the baby owl eventually walked out of it and shortly after perched itself on the large tree branch. I didn’t notice the presence of any adult owls in the area although Carol said they were most likely somewhere in the area watching what was going on. The baby owl spent the first day hanging around the nest mostly hidden from sight only venturing out on occasion to perch on a higher structure near the fence line. I kept a close watch on the little owl throughout most of the day and even caught it exploring other parts of the backyard. But as soon as I got too close for comfort, the little baby owl scolded me and then it scampered back to its temporary nest burying itself under the scrub oak tree branches. The baby owl seemed like it wanted to fly but just couldn’t get enough wind under its wings to stay airborne for any length of time. I found myself getting attached to this little baby owl and prayed for a happy ending.
That evening around 8 a.m. I heard the sound of an adult owl up in a tree near the site of the temporary nest area. I couldn’t see the adult owl but it was clearly making its presence known to the baby owl. Carol said the adult owl would probably come back in the evening hours to feed the baby, as Great Horned owls never abandon their young. I kept watch most of the evening but never saw the adult come down to the temporary nest. Eventually, it got too dark to see so I went inside. Carol said the adult owl most likely fed the baby after I left.
The next morning, I woke up early to check on the baby owl and found it still perched above the temporary nest resting on one of the fence rails. The baby owl was dead silent, just sitting there like a little statue only moving its eyes to make sure I didn’t get too close. I called Carol and updated her about the baby owl’s status. She said the fact that it wasn’t making any noise was a good sign that the parent had fed it the night before and the best thing to do now was to wait for the baby owl to reunite with its parents when it’s good and ready.
It seemed like a long day for both me and the baby owl. I kept checking on him every hour only to find him perched in the same place. I also kept watch for the adult owls but never saw any of them fly into the redwood trees. Around 8 a.m. that evening, I noticed the baby owl had reached a higher spot on the fence and seemed to be flexing its wings. Could this be the moment we’ve all been waiting for? Is this baby Great Horned owl ready to leave my backyard and reunite with its parents? I
got out the binoculars and scanned the tree branches of the redwood tree directly above the fence line where the baby was perched and quickly spotted the adult owl peering down at me with those giant eyes. The adult owl was huge compared to the baby owl with its large ear-like tufts on each side of its head. The body of the owl blended in so remarkedly well with the bark of the tree that you would think it was part of the tree. Truly an amazing animal. I never heard a sound from either the baby owl or the adult owl during this time but I was sure they were communicating with each other.
As darkness fell, I suddenly noticed the adult owl had moved down to a lower branch closer to the baby owl. Then the adult owl moved again to the end of a long branch and then within seconds it was airborne. I quickly turned my attention to the adult owl trying to follow its path but it was out of sight before I could focus the binoculars. I then turned back to the baby owl and discovered it too was gone. Within seconds, both owls had disappeared without warning and I was left with an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. I never heard another owl sound the rest of the night.