WERC Animal of the Month: Great Horned Owls

WERC Animal of the Month: Great Horned Owls

First there was Nanny 911, then came SuperNanny, and now, here
is the South Bay’s own Hoot’n Nanny!
First there was Nanny 911, then came SuperNanny, and now, here is the South Bay’s own Hoot’n Nanny! That would be Loki, the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center’s 17-year-old Great Horned Owl, an educational animal ambassador whose “second job” for many years has been foster-fathering orphaned baby Great Horned Owls. Loki’s “nanny” job is to prevent these owlets from becoming imprinted on their human caretakers, which is exactly what had happened to him. He was found on the ground when he was a 2- to 3-week-old nestling and was raised for a week at the finder’s home.

They soon realized that not only were they ill equipped to care for and feed a baby owl, but that it’s illegal to possess a native raptor. By the time Loki was brought to a licensed wildlife center, he had already imprinted on people, refusing to associate with the foster mother and other orphans.

Imprinting is a species-specific type of learning during a critical early period where the bird’s social attachment and identification are established. Instead, Loki would make chirping feeding sounds when the human caretakers entered the enclosure, which is not normal behavior for a wild owlet. An imprinted raptor is not releasable; it will not thrive in the wild since other owls recognize its difference and refuse to allow it to establish a territory, which is necessary for hunting and breeding.

These three baby Great Horned Owlets were brought to WERC early this year. The first was found on the ground in a parking lot near some large trees, where it had apparently fallen from its nest. The second had been attacked by a hawk and required treatment for puncture wounds and X-rays to ensure he hadn’t been further injured. The last baby was found on the ground in San Jose and was transferred to WERC for fostering. The three settled in with Loki for some serious parenting and big appetites (they consumed more than 3,000 small rodents while in WERC’s care).

In the wild, Great Horned babies stay with their parents for about six months. In captivity, they also must remain with their foster parent for that amount of time. By August the owls had molted from down to handsome feathers and were ready to transfer to a large enclosure for several months of flight time and to reinforce their instinct for hunting live food.

Their rehabilitation was a satisfying success. By the end of September, all three were released back into their native habitats, where they are nature’s supreme flying pest control. On the hunt during dusk and evening, not only do they help keep the rodent population in check, but because they have no sense of smell, they are the major predator of skunks.

W.E.R.C., the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center, provides the community with rehabilitation services for orphaned, injured and sick native wildlife. Through their educational programs, W.E.R.C. encourages a peaceful coexistence between civilization and our native wildlife. To contact W.E.R.C. call (408) 779-9372 or visit www.werc-ca.org.

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