Owls, Out of the Woods

The Raptor Rescue Rehabilitation Centre receives injured birds regularly. They have been hit by cars, poisoned and electrocuted. Sometimes the raptors are shot by irate farmers protecting small livestock like chickens and geese. After receiving tender loving care, many are able to be released back into the wild. However, this is not just a case of letting them go anywhere, usually they need a soft release, with someone to take care of their needs for a while, while they find their wings.

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RRRC is looking for potential release sites for birds. Do you live on a farm or small holding that would be suitable to support birds of prey, either owls, or diurnal raptors?

Katie Robinson at Lemonwood in Dargle has rehabilitated and released a number of owls, a few from FreeMe and the rest rescued by locals. She says I absolutely loved rehabilitating the owls and have done about 12 now over the years and although I don’t see them very often any more, I know they are around and I hear them at night in the forest. 

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 My favourite was a barely alive fledgling, a Spotted Eagle Owl, whom we named Challenge. She was brought to me by a couple of the boys in the village.  As luck would have it, I had two homeopathic vets staying in the cottages who told me to feed it a concoction of remedies, one of which was Rescue (I can’t remember the other two).  I got up every two hours to check on it and administer the drops for the next couple of nights. She made a remarkable recovery and was the first owl I had to teach how to hunt for itself.  I had some live rat traps which were incredibly effective (designed and built by Ken Willan) and I would release the rats into the middle of the lawn and the race was on.  I lost a lot of rats (which I am sure were not fooled by the rat traps twice) but eventually the owl caught on and became a brilliant hunter.  She stayed around the garden for months suddenly appearing out of the trees and landing either on my head or shoulder.  Their flight really is silent, I never knew it was there until I felt her talons trying to get a grip on my skull!!  But she was a tremendous help with the rat problems I had on the farm, so a fright a few times a week was worth the pain! The guests in the cottages loved it.  The owls would come and sit on their balcony. I remember one guest who got the fright of her life as she was at the kitchen sink in front of the window at night and suddenly an owl landed on the sill and started bobbing its head around staring at her with those wonderful, piercing orange eyes.  She told me he stayed there for ages just staring at her and bobbing up and down in their customary way.”

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What a privilege to be chosen as a suitable custodian and being able to engage closely with a bird of prey. This is a very rewarding experience if you have the enthusiasm, time and money to assist our precious raptors and contribute to conservation. You need to be willing to put up a 3m squared release enclosure at your own cost. It needs to have weld-mesh wire or shade cloth sides tied to a metal frame. One side has to have a covered area to protect the bird from the elements, and one side has to have a door in it. Once it has been set up it can be used repeatedly for several releases of various raptors. If owls are to be released, you would need to buy an owl box which will need to be placed in the protected corner of the enclosure. RRRC then bring the raptor/s and place them into your care.

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Four Spotted Eagle Owls were released into the Winterskloof Conservancy area under the custodianship of the Fosters.  Linda Foster: “Thanks for giving us this awesome opportunity to release these lovely raptors.” A while after the successful release, she was delighted to report. “I heard a Spottie calling in the valley last night. Only one calling – couldn’t hear any replies. None of them have been back for food so far though.”

Daily duties for the new guardians will include feeding the birds daily and monitoring their progress for two to three weeks as they settle into their new environment. RRRC will supply the food – several packets of frozen day old chicks which can be taken out, defrosted and used when necessary. Tammy Caine, of RRRC “We will recommend the amount of food to be given depending on the raptor, and which time of day is best to feed.”

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After sufficient time, the door to the enclosure will be opened allowing the raptors to come and go as they please. The guardians will have to continue placing food out until the raptors are hunting and self-sufficient again.

A Crowned Eagle was released in Albert Falls last year – the release process was a perfect success (although later the bird had a sad ending). Theo and Margie Cave reported “Guin (the Crowned Eagle) was released at 17:30 on Friday. She had a successful first meeting with the resident male about an hour later. Both roosted in a large gum tree for the night. Both eagles were in the tree above the hack enclosure on Saturday. Guin came down and fed in the cage.”

16.03.2014 085This is a really worthwhile project to be involved in and obviously a joyful one too. Raptors are often misunderstood and persecuted. “Owls in particular are killed on sight by those superstitious enough to view them as bringers of death. We also get orphan chicks, particularly owls coming into the rehab. It is always a challenge to find suitable homes for these babies as they need longer care, more vigilance and a lot more help in adjusting to life as free, wild birds.” says Tammy Caine. Do contact her as soon as you can to offer your services as a raptor rescuer.  kznraptorrescue@gmail.com 076 724 6846

http://www.africanraptor.co.za

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4 thoughts on “Owls, Out of the Woods

  1. Helen Methley

    I absolutely love these spotted eagle owls and well done to all of you for the work that you are doing in rescuing them. We ‘spotted’ (excuse the pun) an eagle owl in our garden here in Hilton recently. It came back three times to roost in a Johannesburg Gold (tree) beside our swimming pool. Sadly we haven’t seen it since.

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  2. Pingback: Rats, Poisons, Owls | Midlands Conservancies Forum

  3. Tammy Caine

    Dear Nikki, and all the kind, wonderful people who responded to our request for release sites –

    The response has been overwhelming! I have put together a database of potential release sites for raptors. Everyone who responded is on it. As soon as the appropriate bird for your location needs to be released, you will be contacted. Thank you all so much for being part of the conservation and preservation of our raptor species. I am very touched by your enthusiasm and kindness, and I look forward to meeting you all in person when we set up releases on your properties. Once again Nikki, I could not have done this without your help. Thank you very much.

    Kind regards,

    Tammy
    Raptor Rescue Rehabilitation Centre

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