The story of Timmy the owl
We are having some exciting owlish adventures this spring. When my parents were out of town last week, I walked the driveway between our houses (a quarter of a mile through the woods) three times a day, and began noticing signs of owls: an owl pellet in the driveway, noisy crows jabbering at an owl, an owl nest. They are great horned owls. Sunday evening Dave and I walked over to Mom’s, and stopped to watch the owl nest with binoculars on the way there. On the way home an hour later, I noticed a fuzzy white form at the base of a tree next to the nest tree. Apparently an owl had failed his first flying lesson! After a bit of online research, we determined that this was all right; mom would continue to care for the owl while he was on the ground. If he appeared injured, or there were flies buzzing around him, it would be time to take action. Monday I checked in on him, and found him 10’ away by another tree, perky enough. Tuesday I visited again, and this time there were flies buzzing around him, and he looked less perky.
We called the raptor center, and a specialist came out to look at him. She diagnosed him to be 3-4 weeks old, and not ready for flight yet. She took him to the raptor center for the time being, and said she would try to get a tree-climber to return him to his nest.
So early Wednesday evening Jim came with his tree-climbing equipment: a ladder, a long pole, and rock-climbing ropes. We gathered fallen branches, because one of his tasks would be to build better walls on the nest.
Then he climbed to the top of his ladder, roped himself to the tree, and used his pole to loop a rope around a branch at the base of the nest.
Up he climbed, leaning back parallel to the ground and walking up the trunk. At a certain point he stopped to loop the rope over a branch above the nest. At that point another owlet sprang for freedom, leaping out of the nest and fluttering as he fell. He got caught in the branches of another tree, wings askew. Oh, no! In the attempt to help one owlet we’ve injured another. The parent owls were hooting, and he stayed hanging there. Eventually he moved, folding his wings back to his body. Then he slipped again, and fell upside down, one foot grasping the small branch as he hung! I had admired the well-developed talons on our first owl, and this one was demonstrating how well he could use them. He stayed there for a few minutes, then fell to the ground.
Meanwhile, Jim the tree-climber was building up the walls of the nest high in the tree. The parents would fly in to check on all of us, but were never aggressive.
Jim then instructed us to don leather gloves and go pick up owlet #2. I had seen the raptor specialist do this, and had learned what to expect.
This one seemed to be the older of the two owlets. I retrieved him, noting that his wings seemed to be moving well, and brought him back to the duffel bag with his brother. Then we hooked the bag on the rope, and up the tree they went. Jim deposited them in the nest: “You stay put,” to the elder, and “Don’t let your brother push you around,” to the younger. Then he came down the tree. One owlet (the elder?) climbed the new walls of the nest to watch him leave.
And so all was well. The next day, Thursday, I thought I could make out two separate owlets up in the tree. Then early Friday evening I noticed another on the ground again. Oh, dear. It was the younger owl, who fell out last time. I consulted at the raptor center, and they advised me to find a place where I could put him a few feet off the ground, like on a woodpile. I went over to appraise the situation, and found a nice tangle of dead branches that seemed to suggest ‘nest.’ So I proceeded to build an owl nest. It was great- I grew up building huts and lean-tos in the woods from dead branches, and here I was building one with a real purpose.
When it was done, nicely sturdy and outfitted with a bark floor and log cabin style branch walls, I picked up the owl and put him in his new nest. He looked around, seemed content enough, and I left him.
The next morning he was still there, looking around. There was also some food in the nest, and I could see the older owl up in the tree.
Timmy was out of his nest again when I went to look this morning at 8:00. I spotted him on the ground 20’ away, and he didn’t really look perky- eyes half closed, breast feathers bushy.
So I called and left a message at the raptor center. Then I never heard back. Around noon I went to look again, and couldn’t find him! I scoured the area, but no sign of Timmy, adult owls, crows, or scuffled leaves and feathers. Only the older sibling watching me from the high nest. He didn’t offer any clues. Perplexed, I looked wider, and walked over to Mom’s house. No one was there, either. The cars were in the garage, but the house was dark and empty, with no Windy (the dog). I began to think of that Doctor Who where everyone mysteriously disappears, gobbled up by the time anomalies. Then I saw that Windy’s leash was gone, and decided there was a less mysterious answer. Sure enough, I found LaMon working in the lower garden. Mom and Windy were at the neighbor’s house, and a bunch of crows were jabbering at something across the canal.
So I continued to wonder what happened to Timmy. Would this story have a sad ending? Would we never see him again, and assume a gruesome end at the jaws of a big dog? Should I have put him right back in the nest when I noticed he was out? Or perhaps the Raptor Center folks came to pick him up- but why hadn’t they called me? On my way back out the driveway, I heard crows up ahead. I quickened my pace. The crows were up near the nest. Then I heard an owl from the east side of the driveway, and spotted an adult over there. I looked back to where the crows were, and spotted a familiar ball of fluff on the ground. Hurrah! He was a good 100’ or so away from where he had been this morning, hidden in the underbrush. Mom (or dad) was watching from a tree branch nearby, and the crows were cawing at the adult owl.
When I got back to the house, there was a phone message from Jane at the raptor center. She’s going to come over this afternoon to have a look.
Later that afternoon…
Throughout this adventure with the owls, there has always been a question: was our little owlet adventuresome or a victim? Did he fall out looking for new horizons, or was he pushed? Well, the answer is now apparent that he is a precocious teenager.
Some neighbors came over to look at him right before the specialist from the raptor center was supposed to come. I showed them the nest, then walked further to show them where he huddled, listless, far away. This time he looked even worse, balefully looking at us with one eye, as he lay prostrate on his side, his other eye hidden under a leaf.
He’s doing well with his ‘play dead’ routine.
When the ladies from the raptor center came, one approached him and he put up a good fight. Mom up in the tree came in close, ruffling her feathers. Jane, the raptor lady, prevailed, and scooped up Timmy despite his protests. She commented on how well he was progressing, and how his injured hip was doing well. We trooped back towards the nest, built it up a little more, and deposited him in it. He watched us and we watched him. Jane took some pictures. Then he proceeded to climb up the nest walls, none too gracefully. He tottered on the top, and fell out of sight. However, he didn’t fall all the way to the ground, and moments later a head appeared over the wall, checking to see if we were still watching. Then he jumped all the way down. Jane scooped him up, dumped him back in the nest, and we all left, hoping his parents would do a better job of keeping him home then us.
In any case, he seems to be perfectly happy and healthy, and I can continue returning him to the nest if I feel like it, but he probably won’t stay there. The parents will continue to take care of him while he is on the ground.
As the leaves were coming out, it became more difficult to spot Timmy by the hour. I decided that he could now be almost anywhere in the woods, and contented myself with chuckles imagining a fluff-ball waddling through the ferns. However, a week later I decided to go in search of owl pellets under a large oak where I had often seen the parents. I found owl pellets, and once I looked up and saw the fluffy form of Timmy watching me. He had found his own roost, a fallen tree trunk propped up about three feet off the ground. I waved and took pictures, but did not approach too closely.
A few days later, we saw him in about the same spot, but up on a higher branch; presumably he had flown there. A week or two later, I saw one owlet high up in an oak, but couldn’t tell which one it was. By then the leaves and mosquitoes were thick, hampering owl-gazing adventures.