In May, a man walked through our door with seven Barn Owl eggs. He was worried about the
vulnerable eggs after an old barn on his property partially collapsed. He knew that all birds of
prey are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the destruction or removal of the
eggs is highly illegal. Because the owl eggs were now exposed to the elements, though, they
would likely not survive on the ground. He called us to determine the best course of action and
we decided that he should bring them into our ICU.
We placed them in an incubator, which simulates the heat, humidity, and rotation that a parent would provide in the wild. With heavy hearts, we decided we would “candle” the eggs the next day to see if they were viable. Candling uses a bright light source behind an egg to illuminate details of the growth and development of the embryo inside. It’s called candling because
candles were the original sources of light used.
Barn owls incubate their eggs for about 32 days, and we had no way of knowing where they were in the process. But the following morning a trusted volunteer rushed into the office to tell us that a baby had just hatched in the incubator. We couldn’t believe our eyes, even though we were clearly seeing that the first one hatched less than 24 hours after the eggs were brought in! Most barn owls lay their eggs two to three days apart. So at that point, we were preparing for tiny babies every couple days. And for at least the next three weeks the tiny hatchlings would need critical care around the clock.
Every couple days a new helpless baby hatched, needing help with eating. Newly hatched barn owls are no larger than a strawberry and can manage only one tiny piece of food at a time. They are completely helpless, so staff took shifts feeding the babies throughout the day and night. Their shrieks and shrill food cries could be heard throughout the ICU. Caring for these babies was time intensive for the first few weeks, but as they grew they were able to eat more at a time.
Thankfully the babies were strong and healthy. Their parents had done an incredible job incubating them in the wild. Wild parents can do a much better job raising their offspring than we
can simulate in captivity.
After two weeks the oldest nestling’s eyes started to open. Watching them experience their world and each other for the first time was truly amazing. By the time they were full grown they were easily feeding themselves and testing their wings. But the best part was that they wanted nothing to do with the humans that were raising them. They’ll spend some time in our flight enclosures, practicing their hunting skills, and we’ll release them this summer.
Although this story had a happy ending, many such stories don’t. If you find a nest with eggs or hatchlings, please don’t move them, even if you think they’re raptors and you plan to bring them to us. Call us at 303-460-0674 or CPW at 303-291-7227 and describe your concerns. A trained
professional can assess the situation and take it from there.