Great Horned Owlet #19-0223

March 29, 2019
October 5, 2019
Rescue Location
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Cause of Admission/Condition
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On March 10, a young Great Horned Owl was found in Virginia Beach and was taken to Nature’s Nanny Wildlife Rehabilitation, a local permitted wildlife rehabilitation group. On March 29, the bird was transferred to the Wildlife Center so that the young bird could continue to grow up with an adult Great Horned Owl – surrogate Papa G’Ho.

The Center vets examined the bird when it arrived and found the branching Great Horned Owlet to be healthy. The bird was placed in a crate with fellow owlet #19-0148, who was already being introduced to non-releasable owl surrogate Papa G’Ho. Papa has been at the Wildlife Center since 2001; in 2002 he was declared non-releasable due to a wing injury. While Papa has never traveled on programs as an education ambassador, he has a critical job at the Wildlife Center – acting as a role model to young and impressionable Great Horned Owlets. The surrogate parent demonstrates proper behaviors for their species and reinforces their wariness of humans. This enables the young birds to be released back into the wild with appropriate behaviors, vocalizations, and reactions to humans.

The two owlets settled in together; on April 8, the staff determined that both owlets were old enough to thermoregulate [maintain their own body temperatures, since no mother owl is available to keep them warm] and moved the owlets as well as Papa G’Ho to an outdoor flight pen. The rehabilitation team left the crate door open and the owlets soon joined Papa G’Ho on a perch.

The owlets have been self-feeding from a plate of chopped prey twice a day; the rehabilitation team will continue to offer twice-a-day feedings for the next few weeks until the owlets’ interest in the morning feeding begins to decrease. The owlets will need to remain in care until they are old enough for release in the fall.

Your donation will help provide supportive care to this owlet — and our entire owl family! — for the next six months! Thanks for your help. 

Patient Updates

Great Horned Owlets #19-0341 and #19-0223 both successfully passed five nights of live prey testing – indicating that they are ready to hunt for themselves in the wild! The veterinary staff drew blood for a pre-release analysis; results were within normal limits.

Great Horned Owl #19-0223 will be picked up within the next few days and will be returned to  Nature’s Nanny Wildlife Rehabilitation for release in the Virginia Beach area.

The staff are still coordinating the release of owl #19-0341.

Great Horned Owlets #19-0341 and #19-0223 have both been flying well during their daily exercise sessions during the past few weeks. The young owls are flying silently, with good stamina, and are nearing the final stage of their rehabilitation process – live prey testing. The birds have been intermittently receiving live mice during the past couple of months, so they are used to the idea and phenomenon of having to hunt for themselves; they just need to spend several days in a row only receiving live prey, so that the rehabilitation staff ensure that the owls can care for themselves in the wild.

On September 24, the owlets will be split up into their own flight pens; Papa G’Ho will be moved back to a C-pen since his official fatherly duties are done for the year. Live prey testing – “mouse school” – will start later this week.

If the owlets can each hunt for themselves for multiple days in a row, they will be able to be released in October.

The two Great Horned Owlets in A2 are growing up – at a quick glance, it can be hard to tell the difference between the two owlets and their surrogate dad, Papa G’Ho! Last week, the rehabilitation staff started the young owls on daily exercise; at this point, both birds are flying somewhere between six to nine lengths of the flight pen during each session. The rehab staff are increasing the owlets' daily goal to 10 passes this week.

Once the owlets are flying an average of 15 passes during each session, and they are flying silently with good stamina, the owlets will be split up and individually put through live prey testing, or “mouse school”. For several days, the owlets will have to catch and kill their own food, to ensure they have enough experience hunting before they return to the wild this fall.

Great Horned Owlets #19-0223 and #19-0341, along with surrogate owl Papa G’Ho, were returned to their A2 flight enclosure on the morning of July 8. Last week, the staff were able to determine exactly where a raccoon was entering and exiting the flight enclosure, and several repairs and reinforcements were made. After the repairs were finished, the rehab staff set live traps in the A1 and A2 flight enclosure again to ensure that the raccoon was no longer able to get in. After multiple nights of not trapping anything, they determined it was safe to use the flight enclosures again. The staff will continue to carefully observe the area for any raccoon activity.

The rehabilitation staff has started intermittently offering live prey once a week to allow the owlets to observe Papa hunting and to allow them to have their own chance at practicing hunting for the first time.

The three Great Horned Owlets have been doing very well in the outdoor flight pen with Papa G’Ho.

Following a foot and feather check on June 3, wildlife rehabilitator Kelsey determined that the owl family could move to a larger space – one of the Center’s longest and tallest flight pens. In this space, the owlets will be able to practice flying as they get older, and the large birds will have more space to spread out and explore.

The family is now featured on Critter Cam; viewers are able to observe the young birds as they grow and interact with their siblings and surrogate parent.

The owl family has been doing well during the past few weeks; the young owlets are increasingly active and have been exploring their flight pen.

Great Horned Owl #19-0341 is the youngest owlet of the three and has been growing in blood feathers (his adult flight feathers) during the past couple of weeks; at the most recent feather check on Monday, May 27, the feathers were nearly fully grown in. The rehab team will re-check the feathers on Thursday, May 30 and as long as everything looks good, the entire owl family will be moved to flight pen A2 so they have more space. There is a Critter Cam up and ready in this enclosure, so keep an eye out for them on Cam 3!

Since moving to an outdoor enclosure, Great Horned Owlets #19-0148 and #19-0223 have been doing well. The two birds have been in a flight pen with surrogate Great Horned Owl Papa G’Ho since April 8. In this time, both owlets have gained weight; owlet #19-0148 now weighs 1.44 kg and #19-0223 weighs 1.12 kg.

The owlets are wearing temporary colored leg bands to identify them while they are housed together. Owlet #19-0223 is wearing a blue band and owlet #19-0148 is wearing a yellow band.

Both owlets have started flying around their enclosure. Wildlife rehabilitator Kelsey reports that the owlets are “appropriately aggressive” toward their human caregivers. This is a good sign that the owlets are learning proper behavior from Papa.

On April 30, Great Horned Owlet #19-0341 was introduced into the flight pen with Papa and owlets #19-0148 and #19-0223.