Grounded Fledgling

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Aaron Todd

A wonderful encounter and a terrific image! I'm happy to hear that the owlet was safely reunited with its parents and sibling.

Every now and then you have a wildlife encounter that you know will stick with you forever. Around a week ago, I had one of these moments with a great horned owlet. Now that they’ve fledged and aren’t in the area, I can share this great experience. For the sake of the long caption, I’ll have to separate it into 3 posts. This was my very first year following a family of great horned owls. Throughout the past few months Ive checked in every now and then to see how they were managing. On a recent visit I had noticed that their baby feathers were beginning to give way to their adult feathers. I knew that they’d be fledging soon, so I made plans to visit them a few mornings later before starting work that day. It turned out my hunch was right and on this particular day, I arrived to see one of the two owlets out of the nest and in the tree branches 30 feet up. I took a few shots of the owlet trying to figure out how to balance on the small branches, then moved on and continued down the trail. I spent time with some Cooper’s hawks and was about to head out for the day. I had just about left the trail when a little part of me told me that I should take a quick peak on the owlet to make sure it was still doing alright. As I approached the nesting area, to my surprise the owlet was no where to be seen. Curious and a bit concerned, I walked towards where I’d seen the owlet before and suddenly a ball of fluff drifted down from a small tree to the ground right in front of me. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Only 15 feet in front of me sat this beautiful little great horned owlet. I was shocked, excited, and worried as I tried to stay as still as possible while I took a few pictures trying not to scare the owlet more than it probably already was. The adrenaline of this moment made it difficult to keep the camera still. The owlet sat there for around 10 seconds looking around at its new surroundings, then proceeded to slowly run down the pathway back towards its nesting tree. I sat there and watched as it tip toed along the pathway completely in the open for what felt like forever. It must have walked a good 50 feet down the path until it finally turned and disappeared into the bushes. The crows of course were well aware of what was happening and were going crazy. I wasn’t quite sure what to do in that moment. I wanted to make sure the owlet had climbed a tree to safety but also didn’t want to stress it out anymore by following it. I ended up deciding that it was safe to go halfway towards the area the owlet had disappeared into, which allowed me to see that mom and dad had already located their owlet and were successfully chasing off the almost 30 gawking crows. At this point, even though I couldn’t see whether or not the owlet had made it off the ground, I felt confident that it would be alright. I knew that the owlet wasn’t hurt by the fall and I knew mom and dad had found their baby and would keep it safe. The next morning, I returned and found the owlet located safely in a nearby tree with mom by its side. I felt some relief as it helped me know that I had made the right call the day prior. It’s sibling was still in the nest and remained there for several more days before finding the courage to join it’s sibling. I think this situation can serve as an important reminder for us. As hard as it can be at times, it’s important that people give nature a chance to sort things out. If the owlet isn’t hurt and is near its nest, there’s a good chance mom and dad know where the owlet is and will protect and feed it. Owlets have an instinct to climb nearby trees to safety which is a reason old dead stumps and fallen trees are important in forests as they’re easier for them to climb. If you’re very worried and want to make sure you’re making the right move, call a rescue centre and ask them for advice before interjecting, removing or “saving” the owlet. More often than not if you leave it alone, it will be just fine.
Taken By
April Stampe
Taken On
May 13, 2021
owlet gho owl greathornedowl bird animal
  • Focal: 560
  • Lens Model: FE 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 GM OSS + 1.4X Teleconverter
  • Shutter speed: 0.0025 sec
  • Aperture: f/ 8

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