Personal Inquiry Blog

Friday, October 01, 2004

Conversations with Bev

Email Conversations with Bev Day of O.W.L. (Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society)

What are some of the reasons that you receive owls for rehabilitation?
Reasons for getting owls in care are loss of habitat. (E.g. barns being torn down) We usually try to talk the construction people into waiting as long as possible before demolition starts. That gives the babies a better chance of survival. Trees taken down for home construction and nest being found after the tree is cut. Bad year for food supply. (I.e. weather) In really rainy seasons, we tend to get lot of nestlings in from falling out of nests. Sometimes juveniles just haven’t learned survival skills or are left to their own resources by the parents. Hit by cars while foraging too close to the road where rodents are attracted because we humans throw a lot of junk out the window because as kids we were taught it was bio-degradable so it was okay
to do so. We teach differently in our classes that visit us so maybe we will make a difference for the future.

Once the owl is healthy, is it returned to the wild? If not, why?
Yes, the majority of birds in care are returned to the wild. We have a master bander that comes and bands birds that go back to the wild so we get some feedback on this. Over the years we have found with barn owls in particular, the adults have to be taken back to the area they came from. We have had returns on the bands that adults have been hit by cars making their way back to their territory. We have had young stay and nest in sites they were returned to after they have gone through our program. With barn owls in particular we have adopted a program which makes sure they have hunting skills as well getting used to the barn habitat. To this end we have a barn where they are placed at about
14-16 wks of age as they usually just started flying well by 12 weeks.
They are left in this habitat which does contain chickens so they get used to people going and collecting eggs without cleaning up in the owl section. We have 12 chickens just enough to make it feasible for that type of environment but not enough to deter us from our objective which is barn owls. The chickens come and go in this run but the owls do not have access to them as a food source or access to the outside through the chicken run. The Barnies have access to the outside runs as they wish either day or night to get them used to coming and going in
a barn situation.

The odd owl that has come to us have some injuries which even when healthy cannot be turned back to the wild. Jessie, a barred owl, being one. He suffered head trauma from impact with car. Went through our whole program. He can hunt, kill, fly etc., but anyone can walk up to him at any time and pick him up, as we say, "lights on, nobody home", so would make him accessible to anyone that found him in a forest to take home as a pet. Not acceptable under our criteria as releasable. Some owls have minor injuries that make them suitable as foster parents but not as education tools. We have 10 birds that we maintain and take to class. They show no evidence of stress and seem to like the human interaction. During training, this is monitored quite adequately
to make us deem them useful for education. Non-releasable that don't take to manning are used in our front education program and are also used as foster parents. The tours for education are by guide only or outside our locked area which gives the birds quite adequate distance so as not to be disturbed by viewing. All of our caging and distance from caging for viewing are above government standards. When we get our new property, I want to change the way the cages are designed, to improve the habitat for all events and injuries.

Are there laws against keeping owls as pets?
Yes there are laws against owning owls without permits but government here is approachable for some of the stupidest things. You can own owls if they are from out of province or bred in captivity. ANY bird that can go back to the wild is returned to the wild. Under no circumstances is a bird kept that can go back to the wild even when on the endangered species list. We have no right as rehabbers to decide to keep healthy birds in captivity. Some people do want us to turn birds over as they have capture permits or want them for the film industry. THESE requests are not granted unless they will take non-releasable.

Do you have any reintroduction programs similar to ones in the US that are attempting to reestablish burrowing owls in Minnesota?

The Fraser Valley here is the last area of any concentration of Barn Owls. They are considered on the endangered list here. We do have two areas or groups that are doing Burrowing owl breeding. What they are actually doing with the young afterward, I do not know. There used to be a program in the interior years ago but lack of government funding put that program to rest. Kay McKeever also does breeding and relocation. We do try to always find breeding programs for species at risk before considering education or other uses for the birds that CANNOT be released. Kay McKeever is usually the place we send most of our non-releasable owls.

What breed of owls do you see the most?

Our years change as to what we get in most, seems to generally be barn owls. To my knowledge, the barn owls are the only ones that will produce young all year round depending on weather so
if we have a Chinook [warm, dry, local wind] go through, hey, think it's spring.

What are the most important goals of your organization?
One of our main sayings here are the birds care comes first. People later. Education is one of our biggest ways to get info out to people. Kids are going to take over after us and walk in our footsteps so we do try to set good examples. Our president also has put up 70 barn owl
Boxes, some to replace some that are too small put up by an oil company to make themselves look good and some just to give birds better nesting sites. He also monitors all of these to make sure they are kept clean and also to keep track of which ones are active.

Your mention of nesting boxes brought up another question. I've been doing some reading about them and it seems that most people who spend lots of time with owls believe that putting them up on a pole is better than putting them up in a tree. What's your view on that?
In my opinion it would depend on the species of owl you are dealing with and the type of habitat they are used to as well as what predators would have access to the nesting box. Weather as well is a factor to take into consideration. There was a program for barn owls where the airport put out boxes in the surrounding fields. These boxes were
supposed to encourage them to stay out of the hangers. I think 10 large barn-shaped boxes were put up. I can't remember the dimensions, but think of a doghouse for a German Shepherd size dog! Only one of the 10 were ever used and only for 2yrs then deserted. I've known screech owls to nest in the middle of a pond in a wood duck box. Our barn owl boxes are either placed inside or on the outside of the barn depending whether or not the farmer wants the owls to have access to the inside of the barn. We have one nesting pair of barn owls in the middle of a sub-division about 2 blocks from farm area that have nested there or their kids for about 8 yrs now. The nest was originally meant for woodpeckers. Go figure…

Bev told me that of the 15 owls that are native to British Columbia, the only one they haven’t seen at their facility is a Burrowing Owl. O.W.L. also dealt with 365 birds of prey last year.


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