On April 27, front-desk coordinator Maliah had the opportunity to re-nest two young Barred Owls. The birds had been found on the ground on April 26 at a property in Albemarle County; they were too young to be out of the nest, but the parent owls were seen close by. After a quick check-up at the Wildlife Center of Virginia, the staff decided to re-nest the young birds.
My first owl re-nesting will live in my heart for the rest of my life. Throughout the 45-minute drive out to Schuyler, the car was silent, except for the begging chirps of the two nestling Barred Owls. When I pulled up to the property, the original finders were waiting -- they were eager to assist in this re-nesting venture.
We made our way down to the owl nest location about a quarter-mile into their property. As we approached, one of the parents flew out of the nest and landed on a tree branch, watching us. The nest was about 20-25 feet off the ground, and the rescuers had already hauled a ladder to the nesting tree, making sure that it was extremely secure and stable with extra ropes and ties.
After putting on a mask, hat, thick gloves, and a thick sweater, I put the first baby owl in a bucket and started to make my climb. Not looking down and not dropping the bucket was all I was focused on. I arrived at the top of the ladder, removed the baby from the bucket, and was reaching out to place the nestling in the tree cavity when I felt a hard slam to the back of my head and neck. I knew exactly what happened but all I could think about was not dropping the owlet that was squirming in my gloved hand. I held the baby tighter and moved faster – placing the owlet in the cavity, deep into the tree. I clasped the ladder and paused, taking a deep breath as the pain from the talons on my neck started to burn. I climbed down the ladder to retrieve the second baby and started again.
I hadn’t really processed that I was just attacked by a full-grown Barred Owl. Everyone below was checking on me and making sure all was well. I reassured them it was just a part of the job and it was all worth it, just a scratch. The rescuer followed me up the ladder the second time in case mom owl showed up again. As we reached the top, someone called out a warning – “Mom is hunched, she looks like she's going to leap!” I quickly popped baby number two in the nest, making sure that both owlets were pushed farther back into the tree cavity so that we didn’t repeat this experience in the future. We climbed back down, and the rescuers kindly made a mad dash to get alcohol and Neosporin to clean up the talon scratches on my neck.
I can’t imagine a feeling that was ever quite like that. Seeing and experiencing the sheer vigor of a wild animal and feeling her power all for the sake of protecting her children is something I never could have imagined being a part of in real life. Though painful, I am honored I could bring her babies back to her and that she certainly made it known that she will take good care of them.
As for the rescuers, I’m so thankful these babies fell where they did and the Barred Owls nested in that tree because those wonderful people truly wanted the best and most wild life for that owl family. To give them the best without interfering with the natural ways. Those Barred Owls have a beautiful and natural life ahead of them.