2021 Year in Review: Connor Gillespie, Outreach Coordinator

It’s time to look back on 2021! Check our blog between Christmas and New Year’s for a variety of stories and memories of 2021 from the staff and volunteers of the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

This has been my first full year at Wildlife Center, and like many other staff members have mentioned in their Year in Review posts, it has been full of amazing new experiences and memorable moments. One that I was fortunate to be part of was reuniting a young Great Horned Owl with its family.

On April 18, a Great Horned Owlet was found sitting on a bench near a highly trafficked parking lot in Charlottesville. The person who found the bird thought it was injured, and it was brought to the Center later that day by a volunteer transporter. Luckily, the veterinary team’s exam revealed that the owl was not injured; it was a healthy fledgling, and likely came from a nest close to where it was found. The rehab team wanted to try reuniting it with its parents as soon as possible (the longer it takes, the less chance of success). I happened to pass by the area where it was found on my way home from work, so I offered to take it back that night and try to locate the parents.

I left work a little early, loaded the owl into my car and headed out. When I arrived at the parking lot, I went to the bench where the owlet was found and looked at the surrounding trees, then started my search. I realized pretty quickly it was going to be more difficult than I imagined—most of the trees were tall, and the foliage so thick you could hardly see whether a nest might be at the top. After half an hour of searching, I started to become discouraged. I decided to widen my search and check an area a little farther away when I spotted something at the base of a large pine tree—a vulture’s foot.

The more I looked around, the more animal parts I found, and I also noticed white streaks of bird poop along the trunk of the tree. I took a couple of steps back to look up, and almost jumped at what I saw: an adult Great Horned Owl looking down at me!

The adult owl was so well camouflaged that I would never have found it had I not stumbled upon the animal parts below. I couldn’t see a nest, but all indications pointed to that being the right tree, so I brought the crate over and opened it up, giving the owlet time to hop out on its own. Once it exited the crate, I made my way back to my car and watched from the backseat so it couldn’t see me. It took a while before the owlet moved from its spot, but eventually, it walked in circles around the tree, and later climbed up to a low branch. Unfortunately, it soon became dark. I never got to see the adult owl come down to check on the fledgling, but the rehab team felt confident that the owlet was reunited and said I could head home. As I drove off, I had one last cool moment. I saw the adult take flight over a nearby building, and I had to wonder if it was heading out to find food for its returned fledgling.

It was a pretty amazing experience getting to reunite an owl with its family, one that I will probably never forget.

— Connor Gillespie, Outreach Coordinator

Check out all of our year-in-review posts!