Rescue is usually the first step in the process of helping owls that have found themselves in adverse situations. In South Africa, a large portion of the population are superstitious of owls, or believe that they carry an evil connotation. In cases like these, owls face persecution if not rescued and relocated. Although many people love owls and find them quite fascinating, they are often unwelcome visitors. On average, three owls per week are rescued from factories, warehouses, company buildings or private homes.
When it comes to nesting, owls are anything but wise. Barn Owls would nest in unsuitable spots, which would either result in baby Barn Owls falling from the nest or getting stuck in tight spaces. Suitable nesting boxes are erected and Barn Owl families are relocated to a safe home.
Other examples of rescues include sick and injured owls, orphaned baby owls and owls stuck inside chimneys or buildings.
Some species, like Spotted Eagle Owls, are sometimes wrongfully
removed from their parents by the unaware public. The owlet is found on the ground and perceived to be in trouble. Spotted Eagle Owls spend approximately 10 days on the ground, before they can fly. This is a natural part of their development. The owlet learns to hunt on the ground, by chasing after smaller prey, while under the mindful care of the parents who is never more than a few feet away. Wherever possible, these owls are returned to their place of origin. If we are unable to locate the parents, the owlets are placed in the Centre’s foster care program, where adult Spotted Eagle Owls are used to foster raise these babies.
REMEMBER: Not all owls on the ground need help. If it is a young owlet with a fuzzy head (without ear-tufts) and body, it is most probably a fledgling learning to fly. Owlets at this stage only need help if they are injured or both parents have been killed. If the owlet is in a dangerous location, it can be picked up and moved to a safer location (as close as possible to the original spot it was found). Parents will not reject their young just because they were touched by humans.
When an owl is brought into the Centre, an intake examination is performed to decide on the best course of action. A history of the owl is obtained where possible, for example when and where the owl was found.
The examination includes checking for fractures, soft tissue wounds, exposed bone, wing drooping, head trauma, trauma or injury to the eyes, suspected poisoning, possible infections etc.
In injured owls, rehydration is often necessary and an analgesic drug is administered when required.
Owl Rescue Centre works with qualified veterinary professionals who specialize in avian treatment to provide the best possible care. From there, one of our trained owl curators are responsible for further treatment, to nurse the owl back to health. This includes administering of prescribed veterinary medication, changing of bandages etc. As the owl heals and recovers, it is moved from the clinic to a pre-release enclosure and finally to a release aviary.
The release process is determined based on the age and species of owl.
For example, in the case of unfledged Barn Owl nestlings, the owls are placed in an Owl House erected in a secure area of suitable habitat and supplied with food every evening. There is no human interaction involved in this process. The food is provided without the owlet realizing where it comes from.
In this release method, where an Owl House is used, the owls are not under any circumstances closed-in and are only restricted by their inability to fly (developmental stage). The Owl House has an open exit and entry hole through which the owls can leave freely as they naturally develop and become more able of flight. The owls’ natural progression and awareness of its environment is not hindered in any way. The owls slowly adjust to the wild, while returning to the Owl House for food until they are eventually completely weaned from our support. Their survival rate is equivalent to that of parent-raised owls.
Post-release monitoring is in place to determine the success of each release, for example examination of the pellets to determine if the owl’s diet changed to include self-caught prey.
Another method of release is by use of a Hacking Aviary – a supported release method for fledged or adult owls of all species. The owls are placed in a large aviary with a hatch area that can be opened once the owls are ready for their release. The owls are introduced to the aviary a few weeks prior to the set release date, to settle them within their new environment. As owls are mostly nocturnal, they are fed in the evening and a whistle is used when feeding takes place. Special care is taken to ensure that the owls do not associate the feeding with humans, but rather with a sound.
The specific purpose of the aviary is to give the owl an opportunity to familiarize itself with the new environment it will be released into while maintaining a healthy fitness level to successfully adapt back into the wild. The ‘soft release’ ensures a monitored release process that gives the best success. The owls return to the hack for food if they struggle to find their own prey and is slowly weaned off our support and encourage to hunt for itself.
The owls are kept in a quiet section of the farm away from humans and safe from predators. Perches are fitted inside the aviaries and housing is supplied to certain species to create a natural habitat. The aviaries are large (to ensure the birds remain in a fit and natural condition) and the owls are treated as wild birds with minimum human contact. Feeding platforms are erected in various locations on the farm to aid in the support feeding process.
As a pro-life Centre, we do everything in our power to save every owl that finds its way to us. In some cases, the owl sustained injuries that caused irreversible damage, which makes it unfit to return to the wild. Our philosophy here is that if an owl wants to live, let it live. In other words, if it is determined that the owl can still have quality-of-life, despite the injury, it is placed in one of our habitat aviaries where it can live freely in a controlled environment. These permanent residents of the sanctuary, are used as foster parents in our baby owl rearing program.
Non Profit Registration 2012/126036/08
Physical Address (By appointment only)
Farm 448 Bokfontein Hartbeespoort North West Province
Contact number: +2782 719 5463
Apart from our many conservation projects, Owl Rescue Centre is both a rehabilitation facility and a sanctuary for owls in need of care.
Spotted Eagle Owls sitting on the hatch of a release aviary, about to take their first flight of freedom