Great Horned Owlet #22-0490

April 14, 2022
Cause of Admission/Condition
Suspected Orphans
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On April 14, the Center admitted two juvenile Great Horned Owls that were transferred from permitted wildlife rehabilitator Susan Shepperson. Both owlets are suspected orphans and were transferred to the Center to be paired with Papa G’Ho, the Center’s ambassador Great Horned Owl who acts as a surrogate parent to orphaned Great Horned Owls. By pairing these owlets with Papa G’Ho, it should prevent them from imprinting on humans and help them learn the natural owl behaviors they need to survive in the wild so they can eventually be released.

Great Horned Owlet #22-0490 – On April 4, this owlet was found inside a newly constructed house in a subdivision of Powhatan County, with no apparent nest or adults nearby. The rescuer brought the owlet to permitted wildlife rehabilitator Susan Shepperson for an initial evaluation, and it was transferred to the Center two weeks later.

Dr. Emily, one of the Center’s veterinary interns, examined the bird on arrival and did not find any injuries. Bloodwork and radiographs both came back normal, though a fecal sample tested positive for two types of intestinal parasites. After the exam, Dr. Emily started the owlet on a course of anti-parasitic medication, administered fluids, and placed the bird in a crate in Metals, one of the Center’s outdoor holding areas designed to reduce patient stress. Once the owlet goes through a fourteen-day quarantine period to ensure it does not show symptoms of Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), the rehabilitation staff plan to start acclimating the owlet with Papa G’Ho.

Great Horned Owlet #22-0489 – On April 1, this owlet was found in a hayfield in Nottoway County. No nest was found in the area, so the finder brought the owlet to permitted wildlife rehabilitator Susan Shepperson. After a couple of weeks under her care, Susan transferred the owlet to the Center.

On admission, the owlet was bright and alert. Center veterinary intern Dr. Emily examined the bird and did not find any injuries. Its bloodwork came back normal, and radiographs did not reveal any abnormalities. After completing her exam, Dr. Emily placed the owlet in a crate in Metals, one of the Center’s outdoor holding areas. After a quarantine period to ensure the owl does not have HPAI, the owlet will start its introduction with Papa G’Ho.

These two owlets are currently housed next to each other and are fed two times a day by the rehabilitation staff while they are in their quarantine period. In an ideal scenario, the young owlets would be introduced to Papa G’Ho and owlet #22-0294 quickly, but to keep Papa and the other owlet safe, the Center has a number of biosecurity measures in place. Both owlets have a fair prognosis, though there is still a possibility that they could 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.

During the past month, the veterinary team has continued to treat owlet #22-0490 with a combination of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and pain medication. On May 8, veterinary staff took repeat radiographs of the owlet’s right wing and were concerned that the bones around the owlet’s elbow were beginning to fuse, which would cause a limited range of motion in the wing and difficulty flying. In addition to the owlet’s medication, veterinary staff began performing physical therapy to increase the range of motion in the owlet’s wing and applied a body wrap.

The next morning, the veterinary team found that the owlet had managed to remove its body wrap and the IM pin inserted in its wing. Though the pin site was slightly bleeding, it did not look infected or appear to be causing the owl any issues. The veterinary team cleaned the site with an antiseptic and rebandaged the owlet’s wing so its fracture could continue to heal.

On May 11, the veterinary team brought the owlet into radiology to take another set of radiographs of its right wing. The radiographs showed that the fracture was healing well, though the owlet had several small abrasions on both of its wings, likely from banging against its crate. The veterinary team team placed bumpers on the owlet’s wing and moved it to one of the Center’s outdoor C-pens to prevent it from bumping its wing and aggravating its fracture.

By May 16, the incision site where the pin was inserted had healed completely, and the range of motion in the owlet’s elbow was much improved. After another week of rest and treatment, the owlet was placed back in the Center’s A2 pen and reunited with Papa G’Ho and the other owlets. Staff have closely monitored the owlet over the Center’s Critter Cam #1, but have not seen any issues with the bird’s wing.

Currently, the owlet is receiving a joint supplement to help alleviate any lasting discomfort from its fracture, but has completed all other courses of medication. The owlet’s prognosis remains guarded, as there is the possibility that it will develop further issues from its fracture.

On May 7, the veterinary team took repeat radiographs of Great Horned Owlet #22-0489’s right wing and discovered that the bird’s ulna had fragmented at the site where the surgical pin was inserted. The radiographs also showed significant bony changes in the owlet’s rights carpus, resulting in a very limited range of motion. Sadly, there was no form of treatment that could repair these injuries. The veterinary team made the decision to humanely euthanize the owlet.

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.