There it was, sitting as still as a statue on a woodpile.  I whispered to myself.  It’s an owl.  And, slowly, slowly I edged closer to the bundle of fluff. A bundle of fluff about the same size and shape as a hairy coconut, but lighter.  Any moment I expected it to fly away, so I took photographs with every cautious step, but it let me get closer and closer until I was less than a metre away. 

It was a baby owl, its beak tucked forlornly into the soft young feathers on its chest.  Only around the end of its hunched up wings were there any adult feathers at all.  Perched on top of the logs it was a sitting duck, if ever there was such a thing.  Wolf had been hot on my heels and was inquisitively sniffing around, wondering what had caught my attention. 

I ran back to the house, dragging Wolf with me, hearing my husband’s car on the gravel, and together we returned to look at the owl baby again.  It hadn’t moved.  Occasionally it opened its circles of eyes, but mostly it kept them tightly scrunched closed as if it wanted this nightmare to go away.

We ransacked our bird books, looking for pictures of baby owls, and thought it most likely to be a baby tawny owl or perhaps a small owl.  Both were likely to be found in our neck of the woods.  I rang the RSPCA for some advice.  They said that we should try to return the chick to its nest.  Impossible because the only potential nesting place we could see was a natural hollow directly above the woodpile in the candle-covered chestnut tree, and impossible to reach.  We were advised to “contain” the bird so that one of their collection officers could take it to their wild life sanctuary in the next county.  Together we returned to the bird, my husband holding a wicker basket he had found. 

The bird stayed still, like a Furbie with flat batteries.  With a beating heart, I closed both hands around the bird.  It struggled, but only half heartedly, and seemed to fall over when I placed it in a corner of the basket.  We retreated out of the sun to the cool of a shed, optimistically left the owl with a small bowl of water, and covered him with a dark tea towel and sought more advice. 

This time, the bird safely contained, we were asked if we could take it to a local RSPCA office about half an hour’s drive away.  By now the baby owl had placed its bottom over the bowl of water, but otherwise was much as before.  With the basket on my husband’s lap, and Wolf constrained by his lead in the boot of the car, we drove to the centre which houses all the abandoned dogs and cats that the RSPCA is seeking to re-home. 

Tom, the bird man, took our owl away to a chilled room where he prised the young bird’s talons off the wicker basket and, wrapped in a towel, placed the bird in a plastic basket, the sort in which you transport small cats and dogs.  With a syringe he fed the grateful bird drops of water.  The beak opened and I saw the strange angular folded tongue before the beak closed and the water was swallowed.  Later it would be offered small dead rodents to tempt it to eat.  If the bird survived the night it will be taken tomorrow to the wild life centre from where it will, when it has grown adult feathers, be released into the wild.

Owl babies are pushed out of the nest when the mother and father cannot manage to feed them all.  It was probably Nature’s way that this baby owl should die, leaving fewer mouths to feed.  There are about 600 pairs of tawny owls in our county, a small enough number for it to make it worth while trying to save this baby.

Our daughters are away this weekend, staying with their grandparents.  They wanted to know all about the owl and are anxious to know whether it will survive.  We remembered how both of them had grown up on the story of Owl Babies, of three baby owls whose mother has left them.  The two younger owls, Percy and Bill, are very anxious that she may never come back, repeating over and over again “I want my Mummy”. Sarah, the oldest owl, seeks to reassure them that Mummies always come back.  It was a favourite book, with beautiful illustrations. This Mummy Owl came back, of course. The ending was different for our real little owl.   When his Mummy came back it was more of as case of “Percy, you’re one mouth too many too feed.  I cannot be doing with catching mice and birds for you any more,” and a big push out of the hollow in the tree.  All his inadequate wings could do was to break his fall.

 

Tawny Owl Chicks

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