Barn Owlets 2019

April 22, 2019
July 23, 2019
Rescue Location
Cause of Admission/Condition
Accidentally transported across the country in a semi-truck
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On April 22, five Barn Owl hatchlings [#19-0522, #19-0523, #19-0524, #19-0525, and #19-0526] were admitted to the Wildlife Center. The hatchlings were accidently loaded into a semi-truck full of hay in Casa Grande, Arizona and were found while unloading the truck in Crozet, Virginia. Barn Owls are a native species in Virginia, but because these Barn Owls were from out-of-state, the Wildlife Center needed to obtain permission from DGIF to rehabilitate the birds; the Center was given permission to rehabilitate the five young birds, a process which will take several months.

Upon admission, each hatchling was examined by the veterinary team. All of the hatchlings were treated for feather lice, and two of the hatchlings, #19-0523 and #19-0524, were treated for an oral yeast infection. The feather lice and yeast infections had resolved during the owlets’ first week at the Center.

The veterinary team also drew blood and performed radiographs for each hatchling. All of the birds were slightly dehydrated and thin; because the owlets were in the truck for at least a full day, dehydration and low body condition were not surprising findings. The birds were given fluids to help rehydrate them. The birds were deemed healthy overall and were transferred to the rehabilitation team for continued care.

With young birds in the rehabilitation setting, there is a chance they will malimprint on their human caregivers – that means they may inappropriately identify with humans if they do not have an appropriate substitute role model. Because these birds are part of a large sibling group, imprinting on humans is less of a concern; however, the rehabilitation team takes all appropriate precautions to prevent human-imprinting in these young birds, including limited interaction until they are older and wearing face masks when feeding them or cleaning their cage.

After spending several weeks in a crate, the five owlets were well-feathered, eating well on their own, and were ready to move to an outdoor enclosure. Since May 10, the five birds have been living in one of the outdoor flight pens [C-pens], where the birds are able to move around more freely and eventually fledge [begin flying]. Rehabilitation intern Kylee said that one of the owlets, #19-0526, was the first to “branch” on May 20; a few of the owlets have begun to climb on the branches provided in the outdoor enclosure, which is the first step toward fledging. The team expects the remaining owlets to do the same soon.

The owlets will remain together until they begin live prey testing. Wildlife rehabilitator Kelsey says the birds are appropriately fearful of humans — a good sign for the young birds’ prospects for release later this year. Barn Owls naturally disperse from their parents mid-to-late summer and begin roosting on their own in the fall. The rehabilitation team plans to release these owlets in late August.

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Your donation will help provide rehabilitative care for these owlets and approximately 4,000 other patients that the Wildlife Center will help this year.


Patient Updates

During the month of July, each of the five young Barn Owl patients progressed smoothly through the rehabilitation process. Each owl went through flight conditioning and live prey testing before being cleared for release.

In addition to clearing the usual pre-release hurdles, Barn Owl #19-0524 needed to be medically cleared by the veterinary staff; the owl showed no residual problems associated with its fractured left leg during its final month at the Center.

On July 23, rehabilitation intern Kylee released three of the owlets [#19-0522, #19-0524, #19-0525] on private property in Augusta County owned by one the Center’s treatment team volunteers. The following week, the volunteer released the remaining owlet siblings [#19-0523 and #19-0526] on the same property.

On June 7, the veterinary team took radiographs of Barn Owlet #19-0524’s fractured leg. The leg appeared to be healing well, and Dr. Karra decided to begin removing the stabilizing hardware from the leg – a process that continues over the course of three weeks during the weekly radiograph assessments. She cut the IM pin (but did not remove), which is the first step of destabilizing; this forces the bone to bear more of the load, encouraging healing.

On June 9, the rehabilitation noted that Barn Owlet #19-0524 had a maggot in surgical pin sites in its fractured leg. The owlet was brought into the hospital to have the site cleaned and examined; no others maggots were found, and the site looked otherwise clean. The veterinary team determined it was best to leave the owlet in the indoor hold area while the leg healed; the staff would need to closely monitor and clean the pin sites daily.

Radiographs on June 14 showed that the leg is healing well with appropriate callus formation. Dr. Karra took the second step in destabilizing the fracture – she removed the IM pin. A slight infection was noted at the pin site, and the owlet was treated with a course of antibiotics.

On June 21, a final set of radiographs showed the a large callus present on the bone, indicating that the fracture was well-healed. Dr. Karra removed the final portion of the destabilizing hardware – the external fixator. After several days of cage rest, the owlet was cleared to be moved back outside to a flight pen with an adult Barn Owl patient.

The staff will monitor the owlet for use of its leg (which appears to be appropriate) and will check for signs of bumblefoot; with a previous leg injury, the owlet may not bear weight evenly on both legs, which could lead to foot issues. Weekly monitoring following recovery will help the staff prevent problems.

The remaining four owlet siblings are doing well in the outdoor flight pens; the rehabilitation split the owlets into two groups, in separate flight pens, so that they may soon begin exercising and conditioning the owlets for release. Owlet #19-0524 will begin exercising as well, as soon as the bird is cleared by the veterinary team.

The family of five Barn Owlets are growing and eating on their own. The owlets have gained weight  and become more active in their enclosure; on May 23, the rehabilitation team moved the family to a larger flight pen.

Unfortunately, Barn Owlet #19-0524 fractured its left leg in mid-May while still in the smaller outdoor pen. It’s possible the bird injured itself just as it was becoming more mobile and experimenting with flying in the outdoor pen.

Dr. Karra surgically repaired the owlet’s fractured leg on May 24 using a pin and external hardware. Radiographs following the surgical repair indicate that the fracture is healing appropriately.

For ten days following surgery, the owlet recovered in a crate in the Center’s indoor hold area. On June 3, Dr. Peach examined owlet #19-0524 and determined that the bird was healing well enough to move to an outdoor enclosure with its siblings. The owlet will remain in a crate but will be able to see and hear the other owlets.

The veterinary team will perform weekly radiographs on the owlet’s leg, and if it continues to heal well, they will begin the process of removing hardware on as early as June 7. The bird will remain in a crate in the enclosure until it is well enough to move freely in the larger space with its siblings.