Patient 75,000: Great Horned Owlet #18-0232

March 30, 2018
Rescue Location
Isle of Wight, Virginia
Cause of Admission/Condition
Fell from a tree
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On March 29, a private citizen saw two young Great Horned Owl chicks on a street in Isle of Wight County, Virginia. The owlets’ nest had fallen from the tree; animal control responded to the scene but could only find one chick, which was sitting near a mailbox. The owlet was taken to a permitted rehabilitator and was examined at a veterinary clinic. The owl had a bruised keel and stomach and suspected internal bleeding.

The owlet was admitted to the Wildlife Center of Virginia on March 30 as patient #18-0232 – which is the 75,000th patient admitted in the Center’s 35-year history!

Upon admission, Dr. Monica examined the young bird, which was bright and alert. Dr. Monica confirmed significant bruising on the young owl, as well as some laxity [looseness] in the bird’s right wing.

The owlet had cast a large pellet – owls (and other raptors) regularly cast fur and bones from their prey – the parts of the animal they can’t digest. It appears as though the owlet was well-fed by its parents!

The owl will receive radiographs, blood work, and a fecal examination. Stay tuned for more updates on this young bird!

In the News: 

Wildlife Center admits 75,000th patient, The News Virginian

Owlet from Isle of Wight is 75,000th patient at Virginia Wildlife Center, Daily Press

Wildlife Center accepts milestone 75,000th patient, WHSV-TV

Thanks to you, we’ve been able to treat 75,000 patients in our 35-year history! 

Patient Updates

Additional radiographs were taken on April 8 for Great Horned Owlet #18-0232. Sadly, the veterinary team discovered additional problems with the owlet’s bones; one more fracture was identified, and one of the owlet’s wing bones was curved. The fractured wing was also not growing as quickly as the undamaged wing, indicating that the bird’s growth plates were damaged.

It’s unclear why this owlet has metabolic bone disease, though it could be a genetic condition. Based on the owlet’s declining condition, the veterinary team made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize the owlet.

Great Horned Owlet #18-0232 had another set of radiographs on April 5 to check on the fracture in its wing. The fracture is still healing and is slightly displaced. The veterinarians are able to use a tool in the online radiograph system to measure the length of the bones; the measurements indicate that the fractured wing is a little shorter than the other wing. The most concerning finding, however, was two additional fractures in the owlet – one in the bird’s leg and one in the opposite wing.

There should be no cause for additional fractures since the owlet is receiving a complete diet of chopped mice (with bones); the bird is also quietly resting in a crate is not handled frequently. It could be that the bird’s diet was lacking calcium in the wild, though the presence of a normal pellet at admission does not necessarily suggest that. The owlet may have other metabolic issues that prevent absorption of calcium; it’s difficult to know at this stage. The staff will add supplemental calcium to the bird’s diet and the owlet will receive additional radiographs in three days.

In the meantime, the owlet has a new (introduced) sibling! Great Horned Owlet #18-0210 was paired up with owlet #18-0232. They will both be spending time with Papa G’Ho, the Center’s surrogate Great Horned Owl, who helps raise healthy young owlets. Papa is a non-releasable owl and has the important role of acting as a role model to young Great Horned Owlets; Papa joined the team in December 2001 and has helped raise more than 30 babies!

On Friday afternoon, during owlet #18-0232’s complete examination, Dr. Monica was able to identify a wing fracture on the young owl’s radiographs. The owlet’s ulna is fractured close to the elbow joint; radiographs also confirmed signs of internal trauma. Dr. Monica carefully bandaged the owlet’s wing to keep it stabilized.

Caring for the owlet’s fracture will be challenging; young raptors grow – and heal – incredibly quickly. While quick healing can be a positive factor when caring for a patient, it also means that the young owl’s wing could heal quickly in an incorrect position, which makes proper bandaging (and patient cooperation) essential. During the next week, the owlet will receive radiographs, a bandage change, and physical therapy every three days.

On April 2, Dr. Monica took another set of radiographs, which indicated that the fracture was not healed yet. The owlet was re-bandaged and returned to its crate, where the rehab staff are hand-feeding the young bird five times a day.