On March 3, the Wildlife Center of Virginia admitted two young Great Horned Owlets, the first hatchling raptors seen as patients during 2022. A private citizen found the hatchling owls alone on the ground near a Greer and Associates construction site in Albemarle County on March 2, after the birds had likely fallen from their nest. A private citizen observed an adult Great Horned Owl flying in the area, as well as the owlets’ nest. The following day, the Center’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Intern Ben Cole rescued and transported both owlets to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.
A thorough exam performed by Center veterinarians did not reveal any major physical injuries, and radiographs showed the owlets had stomachs full of food -- signifying the parents were still caring for and feeding these young birds. Hatchlings have the best chance of survival when cared for by their wild parents; Center staff prioritized re-nesting these owlets in their original nest.
On March 5, Center staff transported the owlets back to their site of rescue and attempted to re-nest the hatchlings with help from the Greer and Associates construction crew and their equipment. While the initial attempt was successful, within 36 hours one of the owlets had fallen to the ground again. Center staff heard and saw the adult owl nearby, as well as signs of the owlet feeding. Center staff placed the owlet inside a temporary artificial nest attached to the same tree on March 6, and contacted Greer and Associates' site manager on March 8 to check on the owlet's status. The artificial nest had remained in place, neither owlet was seen on the ground, and an adult Great Horned Owl was possibly seen in the area that same morning, indicating that the second re-nesting attempt was likely a success.
One of several native species of owls found in Virginia, Great Horned Owls typically mate and lay eggs during late January and early February, with incubation periods lasting about 30 days. These hatchling owls, the 177th and 178th admissions to the Center during 2022, are likely less than one month in age.
Members of the public should never attempt to treat or raise a baby bird on their own. Despite best efforts and intentions, most hand-raised birds will die. Attempting to raise orphaned birds without proper training also presents a risk of human-imprinting; Imprinting is a form of learning in which an animal gains its sense of species identification. Birds do not automatically know what they are when they hatch – they visually imprint on their parents during a critical period of development. After imprinting, they will identify with that species for life. For more information on imprinting, visit wildlifecenter.org/human-imprinting-birds-andimportance-surrogacy. Additionally, raising a wild animal in captivity is illegal without proper permitting. For more information on how to help orphaned birds, visit wildlifecenter.org/baby-bird.