Great Horned Owlet #22-0294

March 25, 2022
October 3, 2022
Rescue Location
Currituck County, North Carolina
Cause of Admission/Condition
Suspected orphan
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On March 11, a private citizen in Moyock, North Carolina found a fledgling Great Horned Owl on the ground. When the citizen attempted to re-nest the bird, they found three dead siblings in the nest, a strong indicator that the owlet was orphaned. The rescuer brought the owlet to permitted wildlife rehabilitator Dana Lusher in Chesapeake, Virginia for an initial evaluation. After two weeks of care, Dana transferred the owlet to the Center to be paired with Papa G’Ho, the Center’s ambassador Great Horned Owl who acts as a surrogate parent for orphaned Great Horned Owls.

On admission, the owlet was alert and responsive. Center veterinary intern Dr. Emily examined the fledgling and did not find any injuries. No abnormalities were noted on radiographs or during an ophthalmic (eye) exam. After completing her exam, Dr. Emily placed the owlet in the Center’s indoor Hold for rest and monitoring. Though the owlet was determined to be healthy, there is a possibility that because of the owl’s young age it will imprint on people. To prevent this, Center staff wore specialized face coverings and did not talk when examining the owlet. They also planned to place the owlet with Papa G’Ho to help it develop natural owl behaviors, essentially keeping it wild so that it can eventually be released.

On March 27, the rehabilitation team moved Papa G’Ho inside the Center to start acclimating with the owlet. During the acclimation process, both owls were placed in crates with visual access to each other but could not physically interact. This gives both owls time to become used to the presence of the other and allows the rehabilitation team to monitor for any concerning behavior before placing the owls together. After several days of acclimation, the owlet and Papa G’Ho were moved to the Center’s C-pens and placed together on April 1. So far, the rehabilitation team has observed Papa G’Ho and the owlet displaying comfortable behavior around each other, a positive sign.

The owlet will continue to stay with Papa G’Ho as it grows and develops, though its prognosis remains guarded due to the potential for it to imprint on humans.

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Patient Updates

All four of the Great Horned Owlets passed "mouse school" and demonstrated that they are capable of hunting live prey, the last step in the owlets' rehabilitation. A final exam by the veterinary team cleared each owlet for release. Great Horned Owlet #22-0490—the first owlet to pass mouse school—was picked up by permitted wildlife rehabilitator Susan Shepperson and released in Powhatan County on September 28; Great Horned Owlet #22-0294 and Great Horned Owlet #22-0580 were transferred to permitted wildlife rehabilitator Dana Lusher on October 3 to be released near their rescue locations; Great Horned Owlet #22-0508 will be released by staff on the night of October 6.

These releases mark a huge milestone in Papa G’Ho’s 21 years as a surrogate parent at the Center — he has now helped raise more than 50 owlets that have been released back into the wild, thanks to his parental care.

Photo of Great Horned Owlet #22-0490 during final exam by veterinary staff

Photo of Great Horned Owlet #22-0580 during final exam by veterinary staff

During the past month, the owlets' rehabilitation has continued to go well. Thanks to the help of Scott, the Center’s new maintenance technician, staff were able to add additional predator proofing to flight pen A2, keeping the visiting skunks out of the enclosure. On September 1, the rehabilitation team began exercising the owlets once per day. Staff note that all of the young owls are progressing well and building their physical stamina and flight techniques.

On September 16, the rehabilitation team decided the owlets were ready for the next step in their rehabilitation: individual live-prey testing. To monitor each bird’s ability to catch live prey, staff moved the owlets into separate enclosures and placed tubs with live mice inside each enclosure. The owlets will need to show that they are consistently able to catch the mice to pass this step; once they pass live-prey training, they’ll just need a final exam by the veterinary team to clear them for release.

The rehabilitation team will continue to closely monitor each owlet during live-prey testing, with the hope of releasing the birds in the coming weeks. For now, viewers can continue to watch Great Horned Owlet #22-0508 on Critter Cam 1.

The four owlets have been doing well in flight pen A2 for the past month; regular Critter Cam viewers have likely noticed that the owlets are gradually losing their fuzzy downy head feathers and are starting to look more like adult owls.

The rehabilitation staff have started to offer the owl family a weekly “practice mouse school” – every Sunday, the staff place live mice in a tub in the owl enclosure. This group practice allows some of the owlets the opportunity to hunt and to observe each other hunting. As the owlets get closer to their October releases, they’ll be separated and will each need to each pass several nights of live prey training to confirm that they can hunt for themselves.

Predator-proofing from visiting skunks has still been a challenge; while the exterior of the A2 flight pen was well-fortified, a persistent skunk visitor managed to find a weak spot within the A-pen vestibule and has been occasionally visiting the owlets at night. The staff will work to patch this area in the coming week.

Papa G’Ho. the Center’s non-releasable surrogate owl, was moved to a separate enclosure on August 17; at a bi-weekly foot and feather check on August 15, the veterinary team noticed a small wound in Papa’s mouth. After several days, the staff rechecked the wound and found that it wasn’t healing, so they decided to move Papa to a smaller outdoor enclosure to start him on a course of antibiotics.

During the past month, the owlets have continued to do well under Papa G’Ho’s care, though they’ve had to share their enclosure with some unwanted guests — a pair of skunks! The skunks have been digging an entryway into the owlets' enclosure from the outside, likely attracted to the leftover mice that the owlets drop on the ground. The skunks' boldness was a bit surprising given that Great Horned Owls often prey on skunks in the wild, but luckily Papa G’Ho and the owlets have shown no interest in the skunks. Rehabilitation staff attempted to reinforce the perimeter of the enclosure to keep the skunks out, but the skunks were persistent and continued finding ways to dig in, so staff contacted Messer Landscaping to come out and add additional underground fencing. The landscaping crew quickly got to work and completed the fencing project on July 8. So far, predator proofing has been successful in keeping the skunks out.

During the past month, all four of the owlets currently housed in the A2 enclosure have been doing well under Papa G’Ho’s parental care. The rehabilitation team has carefully monitored the owlets over Critter Cam #1 and noted that each bird has been active, eating well, and displaying species appropriate behavior. Each owlet is currently being fed 120g of rat and has gained weight since being admitted.

As of June 13, each owlet’s weight was:

Great Horned Owlet #22-0294 — 1.43 kg  (about 3.15 pounds)                                                                      Great Horned Owlet #22-0490 — 1.34 kg (about 2.95 pounds)                                                                        Great Horned Owlet #22-0508 — 1.08 kg (about 2.4 pounds)                                                                            Great Horned Owlet #22-0581 — 1.31 kg (about 2.9 pounds)


The rehabilitation team has kept a watchful eye on owlet #22-0490 and owlet #22-0581, the two owlets that previously had surgery to repair a radius/ulna fracture and a femur fracture, respectively. Neither owlet has shown any issues, though rehabilitation staff are still administering joint supplements to make sure there is no lasting discomfort from their fracture repairs.

Recently, the rehabilitation team discovered that all of the owlets have grown an increased number of sturdy, adult feathers. As more adult feathers grow in, the owlets will have more mobility and will likely begin to test their wings.

Great Horned Owlet #22-0294

During the past month, owlet #22-0294 has been settling in well. The rehabilitation team notes that the owlet is gaining weight, eating well, and is often seen sitting next to Papa G’Ho. On April 19, both the owlet and Papa G’Ho were moved to flight pen A2, a larger enclosure with the space to house more owlets and allow the birds to practice moving around. Later that week, the rehabilitation team moved owlet #22-0489 and owlet #22-0490  into the A2 enclosure. Owlet #22-0294 has continued to do well with the addition of the other owlets.  Last week, Center staff observed a special moment between Papa G’Ho and the owlet on camera — Papa was seen preening the owlet, a behavior that adult Great Horned Owls commonly perform on their offspring in the wild.

Great Horned Owlet #22-0490

After an acclimation period, the rehabilitation team placed owlet #22-0490 in the A2 flight pen with Papa G’Ho and the other owlets on April 24. Though the introduction initially went well, shortly after the owlet left its crate it flew into one of the perches in the enclosure and injured its wing. The rehabilitation team immediately crated the owlet and brought it inside the hospital for an examination. Radiographs revealed that the bird fractured the radius and ulna in its right wing. The veterinary team stabilized the fractures with a body wrap, started the owlet on pain medication and anti-inflammatories, and placed it inside the hospital’s ICU for rest and close observation.

On April 26, Center veterinary intern Dr. Jenn anesthetized the owlet and surgically placed a pin in its right wing to help its fractures heal correctly. Dr. Jenn also started the owlet on a course of antibiotics and ice pack therapy. The incision site where the pin was placed has appeared slightly swollen,  but looks clean and is starting to scab over. For now, the veterinary team will keep the owlet inside the Center where they will closely monitor for any signs of infection; its prognosis is guarded.

Great Horned Owlet #22-0489

Following a period of acclimation, owlet #22-0489 was placed in the Center’s A2 flight pen with Papa G’Ho and the other owlets on April 24. Though the owlet appeared to be settling in well during the first couple of days, on April 27 the rehabilitation team noticed that it had a right-wing droop. The owlet was taken inside the hospital for an exam, which revealed that the radius and ulna in its right wing were fractured. Center staff are not sure exactly how the injury happened, but they suspect that the owlet flew into one of the perches in the enclosure. The veterinary team applied bandages to stabilize the owlet’s injured wing and started the owlet on anti-inflammatories and pain medication. The owlet was then placed in the Center’s ICU where veterinary staff could closely monitor it.

On April 30, Center veterinary intern Dr. Jenn anesthetized the owlet and surgically implanted a pin in its right wing to help stabilize the fractures. The next day,  the site where the pin was placed appeared swollen and abnormally colored, with a moderate amount of bloody discharge present. In addition to its other medication, the veterinary team started the owlet on a course of antibiotics to fight infection and have been applying an ice pack to its injured wing twice daily. For now, the owlet will remain inside the ICU where staff will continue to provide treatment and monitor its wing for improvement;  the owlet’s prognosis is guarded.