Wednesday, September 3, 2014
If you’ve ever had a bird’s nest in your backyard, you know the joy of watching a pair of birds raising their young. It seems like the babies go from hatchlings to fledging (leaving) the nest in the blink of an eye.
For over a month, I have been privileged to witness firsthand the growth of a young European Barn Owl. As World Bird Sanctuary staff members, we are responsible for the training of our young education birds, but some of us also get the responsibility of raising them.
In mid April of this year, a couple of European Barn Owls were hatched in our propagation department. Two of these chicks will be education birds with the World Bird Sanctuary; so, when the chicks were about one month old, they were removed from the Propagation Department and given to the care of Education Department staff members. I was fortunate enough to be one of the staff members chosen for the task.
Avery with his baby down (photo: JoHanna Burton)
When I received the baby, he was exactly one month old, and no more than a downy cloud of fluff. I took home a crate, and all the necessary equipment to feed him as often as he was hungry. My job was to socialize the baby and get him used to various people, places, and experiences. I carried him to and from work every day, where we set up a pen for the babies in a corner of the kitchen.
Over the following weeks, the little owls changed rapidly. Already being about full-grown in weight at a month old, the babies began growing in their adult feathers and losing their down. As my little owl’s feathers grew, so did his curiosity. He began to explore more of his surroundings (supervised by me). Eventually he figured out how to pounce, which provided hours of entertainment. Shortly after, he figured out how to use his wings to give himself a little more height on his pounces, which led to short flights.
Baby birds grow very quickly. Avery with his "big boy" equipment (photo: JoHanna Burton)
Once the flights started, it was time to put the two young owls on falconry equipment, so they could be handled by trainers like the rest of our education raptors. The owls are now on anklets, jesses, and leashes, just like the other education birds. It took a day or two, of course, for the little owl to come to terms with the loss of his freedom of exploration. Now, bringing the owl home in the evenings required also bringing home a perch and mats to keep him tethered for his own safety.
Learning the routine of stepping onto and off of gloves, crating properly, and going out on shows as a walk-on bird are some of the last steps in the little owl’s (named Avery) training. He is a crowd favorite with his curious head bobbing and wing stretching.
Perhaps the next time you visit the World Bird Sanctuary, you will see little Avery and his brother Oakley in the Nature Center weathering area.
Submitted by JoHanna Burton, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist