Great Horned Owlet #22-0581

May 22, 2022
October 3, 2022
Rescue Location
Lancaster County, Virginia
Cause of Admission/Condition
Fell from Nest
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On April 18, a private citizen found a Great Horned Owl hatchling on the ground in Lancaster, Virginia. The owlet was too young to be out of its nest and was taken to permitted wildlife rehabilitator Dana Lusher for an exam. Dana found what she suspected was a fracture in the bird’s right leg,  likely from falling out of its nest. After several days of rehabilitative care, Dana transferred the owlet to the Wildlife Center.

On admission, the owlet was quiet and appeared weak. Dr. Emily, one of the Center’s veterinary interns, examined the owlet and felt a possible fracture in the bird’s right femur. Radiographs confirmed that the owlet’s femur was fractured. No other injuries were found during the exam. Dr. Emily started the owlet on a course of anti-inflammatories and pain medication, then placed the owlet in the Center’s ICU to rest, with the plan to perform surgery on its injured leg in the following days.

On April 25, the veterinary team anesthetized the owlet and surgically placed a pin in its right leg to help stabilize its fracture so it could heal properly. The incision site appeared red and very swollen the next morning. In addition to the owlet’s other medication, the veterinary team started the bird on a course of antibiotics and ice pack therapy daily.

After several weeks of treatment, the owlet’s leg appeared much improved. On May 10, the veterinary team anesthetized the owlet to take repeat radiographs of its right leg and found a moderate callus formation around its fracture. This indicated that the fracture was healing well and the veterinary team decided to remove the pin from the owlet’s leg. They closely monitored the incision site where the pin was removed for any signs of infection, but it soon healed well and the owlet was able to perch and use its leg normally.

On May 24,  the rehabilitation team placed the owlet in a crate inside the Center’s A2 enclosure to start its acclimation with Papa G’Ho, the Centers' ambassador Great Horned Owl. Placing the owlet with Papa G’Ho will help it learn the natural behaviors it needs to survive in the wild and maintain its wariness of people. On May 26, staff opened up the crate and let the owlet into the enclosure

So far, the owlet has been observed getting along well with Papa G’Ho and the other owlets and staff have not seen any issues with its right leg. The owlet’s prognosis remains guarded.

You can watch this Great Horned Owlet on Critter Cam 1!

Your donation will help provide veterinary care and rehabilitation to this young Great Horned Owlet … and more than 3,800 patients that the Center will admit in 2022. 

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.