Hoo-Hooo! You Chopped Down Our Home

Reunited owl family a reminder of wildlife laws

By Jessica Greene
|  Sunday, Apr 11, 2010  |  Updated 6:42 PM PDT
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Adorable Zoo Babies: Roosevelt Elk Calf

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Rescuers at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley snapped this picture of one of the baby owls.

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SJ Tree Trimmers Displace Owlets

Chopping down a palm tree in a San Jose yard, made one family homeless.
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A pair of baby barn owls accidentally left for dead are on the mend in the South Bay.

The birds, only a couple weeks old, were found on the ground Tuesday in San Jose after a trimming tree company cut down the palm tree where they lived, WildRescue's Rebecca Dmytryk said. The parents flew away.

A passerby spotted the owlets on the side of the road and called rescuers. There were three babies but one died before the rescue effort got in full swing.

Experts at the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley took the birds under their wings for the next few days. They had to rehydrate and feed the babies and get them ready for their final step -- heading back to a place where their parents could take over. They built a box for the owlets and mounted it on a post in the same yard and waited for the parents to come back.

On Friday, they did. The family reunion went well and after a few adjustments to the new nest on Saturday, the family looks to be on their way back to normal. Barn owls are resilient, Dmytryk says, and will be able to make up for the time apart easily. The man who owns the property was happy to help. He said he had no idea owls were living in his palm tree.

Barn owls are protected under the Federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Disturbing them is a federal crime and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife  Service could become involved in an investigation.

The landscaping company hired to do the trimming was surprised to hear they could be in trouble. They had a permit from the city, they told us by phone Saturday night, and said they were doing what they were supposed to do. A representative from the company said the trimmer saw an adult owl fly out when they were knocking the tree down then saw two others fly away so they kept cutting. He said he didn't see any babies, and if he had, he would have taken them for help.

But Dmytryk said the babies are far from ready for flying. "They're like little grapefruits with fuzz on them." While she doubts the tree trimmer's story, she says it serves as a valuable lesson for that company and helps get the word out about the importance of the laws.

Even though their name implies they should be farm birds, barn owls are common in urban settings. They're very versatile and perform an important function that is useful for any property owner: exterminator. They eat rodents, and while they are growing, can eat up to 12 mice a night, Dmytryk said.

Pesticides pose threat because animals and birds that eat the carcasses are also poisoned. One of her goals is to spread the word about the dangers of pesticides and importance of barn owls as Mother Nature's natural exterminators.

Rescuers at the San Jose Animal Shelter are responding to more calls about baby owls knocked out of their nests because of this weekend's heavy winds. They will team up with the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley to ensure more happy endings.

This time of year, wildlife rescuers are inundated with calls about baby birds on the ground that at the stage where they are just learning to fly. Many are inadvertently orphaned by people thinking they are helping, says Dmytryk. She says people should not pick up the babies because the parents  are still caring for them and it's one of the most critical stages in a bird's life. Instead, she says, they should call their nearest wildlife rescue center or 866-WILD-911 to find the closest one.

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