2012 Year in Review: Amber Dedrick, Wildlife Rehabilitator

Last year, many of our staff, students, and volunteers recounted their most memorable moments of 2011. We had so much fun reading and sharing these stories, we thought we’d do it again!  Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2012 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center.

Early in 2012, we admitted three nestling Great Horned Owls. While it was a pleasure to care for all three, GHOW #12-0317 was definitely the most memorable to me. This owl was found on the ground at nearby Shenandoah Valley Campground, and was admitted to the Wildlife Center on April 3. After determining that it was a healthy young owl, the decision was made to attempt to reunite this baby with his parents – the best solution for any young animal!

 Unfortunately I wasn’t involved in the actual re-nesting event. The baby spent a week at his nest site but his parents never returned to care for him. The campground staff brought him back to the Wildlife Center on April 10. For the week he was away from the Wildlife Center, the campground staff supplied him with a diet of chicken thighs – not the healthiest diet for a baby Great Horned Owl. I feared he was in danger of becoming imprinted on humans, particularly after being fed by people for a whole week, and possibly sick from the lack of a proper diet for a fast- growing young bird.

After placing him in our “hold” area for a few days to make sure he was in stable condition, we moved the young owl into the enclosure of Papa G’Ho, our surrogate Great Horned Owl, to provide this young owl with a proper role model. We use surrogate parents whenever we can with young raptors. While we are capable of raising them to adulthood, adults of the same species can teach them so many things that they could never learn from humans, such as proper vocalizations and behaviors. The introduction period went well and as soon as we could, we let GHOW #12-0317 live in the cage with Papa, day and night … and what a difference we saw!

Papa really is the ideal surrogate parent – #12--0317 went from reacting very little to the presence of humans, to becoming a very mean Great Horned Owl – just like he was supposed to be! Soon all three babies were living with Papa G’Ho, and it was very fun for all of the students and staff to watch their progress on Critter Cam.

Later in the summer, we had to start thinking about getting these babies ready for release. #12-0317 was the strongest flier out of all the babies, so he was the first one to be separated from the bunch and put on a formal exercise program. In no time, he was exercising at top level, and was started on his live- prey school. #12-0317 was particularly impressive here – passing mouse school every night for six nights in a row! A lot of young birds don’t pass their first try through mouse school, but this bird was a born predator!

After this, we knew this bird was ready to go. He had all of his pre-release blood work done, was federally banded; we just needed someone to release him. With about 250 patients in-house at the time, I was eager to get the owl out the door as soon as possible – so I volunteered to release the bird.   Amanda mentioned that she was going to open the release to the public, which I didn’t really think too much of at the time … after all, how many people are going to be able to show up with just 24 hours of notice?  Right?

Well, imagine my surprise when I showed up at the campground – the site where the owl was first found – for the big release, and 80 people were there along with two newspaper reporters and a TV camera crew. Before arriving, I expected that several of the campground staff would be present, but when people told me they had seen the release posted on the website and traveled to be present, it helped to put the reach of our organization into perspective for me! I never dreamed the release of one owl would generate so much interest on such short notice … but then I have to remember that I’m lucky enough to see and work with these animals on a daily basis, and most people get very few opportunities to see them up close like this. After taking the owl out of the carrier, recounting his story, and letting everyone get a good look at him, we counted to three (in typical release fashion) and I tossed him into the air. A perfect release by my standards – the owl flew up and up and kept flying into the twilight until we couldn’t see him anymore.

Release Photos by Shelly Hokanson:

--Amber Dedrick

Keep checking the Wildlife Center's blog for more year-end posts this week!