Every year, hundreds of tawny owl and little owl chicks are found at ground level in the countryside and picked up by humans as presumed ‘orphans’. In fact many of these chicks are actually not orphans and are doing what we call ’branching’ - natural behaviour where they climb amongst the branches of a tree, occasionally falling to the ground.
They are normally quite capable of getting back up into the tree very adequately, using their wings, talons and beak to scramble up and down the tree trunk - and all too often, the parent birds will also be very close by, keeping a watch on their young and will feed them at night.
Rescue centres are in-undated every spring by well-meaning people with these chicks, and it is a great strain on their resources to deal with these un-unnecessary cases.
So the advice is ‘leave them alone’ please. If you feel that the chick is in immediate danger, then it can be helpful to pick it up and put it up in the nearest tree. But watch out - in the case of the tawny owl, the female may potentially attacking anything that might be a threat to her chick - so beware and keep an umbrella handy just in case!!
Where a chick is injured and might need first aid, get it in the hands of specialist care as soon as possible - click here for details of Raptor Rescue. If it needs food quickly, then this must be natural, unprocessed raw meat such as pieces of day-old chick, mice, or even rabbit, but cut into very small pieces and fed with tweezers - be careful not to over-feed.
Do not keep the chick any longer than necessary and get it to a rescue centre as soon as possible, as feeding by hand can ‘imprint’ the chick and once tame it will never be able to go back to the wild, which must always be the main priority.
In the case of barn owl chicks, they do not branch and if they fall out of the nest site they will perish if they can’t get back in, as the parents will not feed them away from the nest. So these chicks should be picked up and returned to the nest hole or box as soon as possible. If you think it needs first aid please ring Raptor Rescue immediately.
Tawny owlets spend their early years in the trees before they grow their feathers. If they fall out the tree the parents will feed them but many people find them, pick them up and take them away before this can happen.
Little owlets leave the nest after just a few weeks and are very capable climbers. They often find themselves on the ground but the parents will feed them in response to their calls.
Barn owlets should remain in the nest for 10 weeks or more but some fall to the ground in the scramble for prey being brought in by an adult - they will persih if left as the parents will only feed them at the nest site.
I have prepared a leaflet that gives advice on what to do if you find an owl chick. Please click to download.
THE WEBSITE OF OWL SPECIALIST & WILDLIFE EDUCATOR IAN McGUIRE
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