It’s officially baby season here at the Wildlife Medical Clinic! We’ve seen baby gray squirrels, fox squirrels, raccoons, and cottontails over the past couple of weeks, but last week, the clinic admitted its first baby bird—and he’s quite a big baby!
This great horned owl nestling was brought in after someone found him alone on the ground in Savoy, Ill. Unfortunately, very little information was conveyed from the finder to us, so we don’t know if this guy fell from the nest or was indeed an orphan. In either case, a full physical examination revealed no injuries or apparent problems. The bird was rehydrated, given a fake nest, a mirror, and a stuffed owl friend, and was set up for the night. He was soon transferred to the Illinois Raptor Center to finish growing and learn to fly and hunt. The Illinois Raptor Center was able to locate the nest of some great horned owls and place this little guy up there. All reports are that mom and dad have adopted the new chick and are caring for him like one of their own (see photo above; the chick we treated is on the right). And when he’s ready, he’ll be released back into the wild later this season.
Often, baby animals that fall from nests due to storms or human intervention can be reunited with their parents. Ideally, the baby would be returned directly to the nest, but in cases when the nest isn’t accessible, is destroyed, or the exact location is unknown, a substitute nest can be created out of a basket, a box or a plastic container. The container should have some holes in the bottom for drainage and padding to keep the baby warm and protected (natural or synthetic material works for padding—keeping in mind that you want to use something that will dry quickly and has no loose strings that the baby can get entangled in!). The fake nest should be placed in an area that is protected from the sun and elements and hidden from predators. Here is a webpage from a great organization with more information. As long as the new nest’s location is close to the original, bird parents will often still take care of the baby. In the case of a mammal, if the mother is still around, she will usually carry the baby back to her den or nest.
Despite our best intentions, baby animals always do better with their parents than they do in captivity with us. So if you find an apparently healthy baby animal alone, call a wildlife rehabilitator for more information before picking him up. Any animal that is obviously injured, in distress or has dead siblings or parents nearby is indeed in need of help and should be brought to a licensed wildlife professional for care. For a list of these professionals, check out this site.