My girlfriend Hannah and I recently traveled to Kwa-Zulu Natal to visit her family at their farm. During our short visit there, we found ourselves responding to the urgent need of a small owl chick.
Late one morning, Hannah heard one of her dogs barking incessantly. She went outside to investigate the commotion and discovered that the object of the dogs’ barking was a Spotted-Eagle Owl chick that must have fallen out of its nest. The chick was on the ground, cornered by the dog against a wire fence. Since the chick was not fully fledged, it could not fly back to its nest or even to safety.
Hannah, with the help of her mother, quickly and carefully picked up the chick and placed it in a large cardboard box with blankets and a hot water bottle to keep it warm. With the chick now safe, away from the threat of the dogs, the next step was to care for it and keep it alive until it was fully fledged (able to fly). Thanks to the help of some neighbors and friends of Hannah’s, we obtained several mice that we then fed daily to the owl. In essence, we were filling in for the chick’s parents, who would have brought food regularly to their offspring.
Luckily enough, some friends of Hannah’s family who live nearby, have experience in raising owl chicks, and even had set up a bird shelter with a built-in camera for monitoring young birds. We knew we could trust this family to take good care of this owl, and as such, we invited them to collect the owl to raise it themselves.
Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus)
Size: Medium-sized owls, yet one of the smallest Eagle-Owls (~ 45 cm; 700 g).
Status: Resident. Most common Eagle-Owl in southern Africa.
Food: Eats small insects, rodents, birds, and mammal prey up to hare size.
Habitat: Wide variety of habitats and has adapted well to suburban areas.
They were so excited to have a new owl chick, and the family’s three young children were especially excited to be able to take part in raising another bird. Once the owl has matured enough and developed its flight feathers, the family will release it back into its natural environment.
Regarding the question of intervening to help a wild creature, personally I usually prefer to let nature take its course. But in this situation, some intervention seemed in order to prevent the chick from being hurt or killed by the dogs.
The decision to intervene carried another advantage with it. With the three children involved, a hands-on experience like this is probably one of the best ways to instill a passion for conservation and nature in children who will be the advocates of tomorrow .
And so, whether this owl chick survives until adulthood or not, one thing is for certain: This Spotted Eagle-Owl chick will have had a lasting effect on all of us who were able to take part in saving it and nurturing it.