Peace River Wildlife Center invites you to celebrate the first birthday of the latest addition to our family of glove-trained birds. Orion the barred owl turned one on February 14 this year. He is our Valentine baby, and lives up to all that entails by being such a love.
Orion was transferred to PRWC last year as a fledgling from our sister organization, the Wildlife Center of Venice. They had helped to re-nest the barred owl chick when he was found on the ground, but subsequent exposure to the people at the site caused the bird to get habituated to humans and unsuitable for life in the wild.
Barred owls, with their distinctive “Who cooks for you?” call, were historically found on the east coast of the U.S., but have been expanding north and west into Canada and now down into northern California, due to changing habitat. They do not migrate and usually spend their entire lives within a six-mile radius of where they hatched.
Breeding season in Florida is late January to March. Hatchling barred owls are born covered in white fluffy down, which is slowly replaced by adult feathers as they age. The young barred owl will have complete adult plumage by six months.
At four to five weeks of age, the “branching” (an age between nestling and fledgling) baby bared owl will perch on the edge of the nest and climb out onto nearby branches. If he drops to the ground, he can usually climb back up his tree or a neighboring one using his talons and beak to dig in, while fluttering his wings to get to lower branches. He will remain there while his parents protect and feed him. This unique behavior is what got Orion in trouble when people interacted with him and lured him down from the tree to feed him.
During a re-nesting, we normally ask the homeowners in the area to keep an eye on the baby and let us know if it falls out of the nest again. We will re-nest another time or two, but if a hatchling continues to end up on the ground, we assume there is either something wrong with the baby or there are larger siblings that will not allow the smaller one to eat and rest comfortably. I know that feeling, having had an older sister who used her height and weight advantages to torture me throughout our youth.
When WCV heard nothing more about the status of the barred owl, they assumed all was well. Until it wasn’t. The homeowners, concerned that the parents weren’t feeding the owlet enough, were luring it down from the tree to feed it ground meat off their shoes. Eventually they called WCV back to say they were now concerned that the young owl wouldn’t go back up into the tree.
The owlet was taken back into rehab and placed with foster parent barred owls to try to wild him up again. But by then, the damage was done. He had been habituated and would not know how to feed himself or associate with members of his own species.
Luckily, PRWC was able to obtain a permit to keep the owl as an education bird. We named him Orion, after the hunter from Greek mythology and the constellation, although he would actually never be able to hunt in the wild. He took to glove-training easily and is one of our most sought-after birds for outreach events and greeting visitors at the Center. Orion will be at the Peace River Woodcarvers Show at the Turner Agricultural Center in Arcadia on Saturday February 17 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Or stop by PRWC to wish him a happy birthday. He likes dead mice if you want to get him a gift.
by- Robin Jenkins, DVM