Owlets rescued after fall from nest

February 10, 2023

The von Arx Wildlife Hospital is part of and located at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. We are open 365 days a years from 8 am to 8 pm and rescue, rehabilitate, and release sick, orphaned and/or injured native wildlife in Southwest Florida. Call 239.262.2273 for wildlife assistance.

Four Eastern screech owlets and an Eastern phoebe were among the fifty-seven animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a tri-colored heron, a red-bellied woodpecker, a fox squirrel and a Florida softshell turtle.

Four Owlets Fall From Their Nest

An instructor at Lorenzo Walker High School called the Wildlife Hospital after finding four eastern screech owlets on the ground. Hospital staff was concerned the young owls may have been injured when the tree fell and asked for the owlets to be brought in for evaluation.

Staff looked in the transport container and found three well-feathered owlets and one white fuzzy owlet. Three of the owlets were quiet and unresponsive to handling. The youngest owlet was reactive and attempted to use its talons to defend itself. None had any external injuries. Staff prepared a recovery space in the bird room similar to a natural nest cavity and offered the owlets a rodent diet.

Four eastern screech owlets

Staff checked the owlets an hour later, all the mice were eaten and the three oldest owls were alert and attempting to fly; the fourth, youngest owlet was resting in a corner of the enclosure, eyes closed with no defensive response.

Staff separated the youngest owlet from its siblings due to the concerning change in behavior, administered pain medication and placed the owlet in an animal intensive care unit on oxygen for the night.

The following morning all four owlets were bright, alert and active.

The youngest owl had eaten its mouse diet overnight and was strong enough to return to the enclosure with its three siblings. Volunteer Tim Thompson planned a screech owl nest box installation at the high school later that afternoon.

Tim met staff from the wildlife hospital and the instructor who had found the owlets. The instructor showed Tim the exact location where the nest tree had stood. The owl box needed installation on a tree as close as possible to the original nest tree because the adult owls would be searching for their babies where their nest had been.

Tim placed the four babies in the box and positioned two twigs in the entrance hole; if the twigs were disturbed and found on the inside of the box, it would mean the adult owls had entered the nest box to care for their babies. If the twigs were undisturbed, it would mean the adult owls hadn’t returned and our renesting was unsuccessful. Tim and hospital staff planned to check the nest box that evening after dark and the following morning to ensure the adult owls found their babies.

Later that evening, the adult owls were seen in trees near the nest box.

One owl flew to the front of the nest box twice, on the third flight the owl actually clung to the front of the box and poked its head in the hole. Knowing one owl had found its babies inside the box assured staff the parent owls were going to continue caring for their offspring.

The following morning Tim checked inside the nest box and found the twigs had been disturbed and the four owlets snuggled together. The renesting was successful.

Even though it is winter, many species of wildlife are actively nesting. A river otter pup and several nestling mourning doves were also admitted last week. Please ensure landscaping and tree-trimming activities do not disrupt active nests. Always check trees before cutting or trimming and avoid any trees that have an active nest. Call the wildlife hospital for information if you have concerns, staff will evaluate the situation and determine when it is safe to resume trimming and tree removal.

Eastern Phoebe Hardened in Chaulk

A homeowner arrived one morning just after the wildlife hospital opened; workers were at his house the previous day caulking the gutters. It was early evening when the homeowner returned to find a small bird coated in hardened caulk. 

Hospital staff evaluated the extent of damage, administered a light sedative and placed the bird in a warmed animal intensive care unit to rest. Once the sedative took effect, staff used a biosolvent to weaken the caulk for removal from the bird’s legs, feet, right-wing and beak. The biosolvent made easy work of removing the majority of the caulk from the bird’s legs and feet.

Eastern Phoebe hardened in chaulk

To ensure the bird wasn’t overly stressed, staff stopped the removal process for thirty minutes.

After the break, it took another ten minutes to clean the caulk from bird’s wing and beak. Staff returned the bird (now clear of caulk and able to be identified as an Eastern phoebe) to the ICU to rest. After several hours, staff moved the phoebe to a recovery space in the bird room. A check later that evening showed the phoebe perched quietly on a twig, all of its worm diet eaten.

The phoebe continues to recover in the bird room and will need at least one more bath with Dawn dishwashing liquid to ensure the biosolvent is completely removed from its feathers.

Please call the wildlife hospital for guidance if you find an animal in distress.

In the case of the phoebe, the Wildlife Hospital was open and because medical staff had the proper removal solvent and could provide a sedative and pain medication, stress on the bird was minimized; the clean-up process was straightforward. Of course, there will be animal encounters when the hospital is closed and people will have to use their best judgment.

If you find an animal when the wildlife hospital is closed, place the animal in a quiet, warm, dark area of your home; never offer food or water. Bring the animal to the hospital first thing the following morning. Our hours of operation are from 8am to 8pm every day.

Recent Releases

A banded water snake, an eastern screech owl, a Florida softshell turtle, a red-shouldered hawk, a Virginia opossum, a broad-winged hawk, a mourning dove, a burrowing owl, a royal tern, three laughing gulls, three double-crested cormorants, four brown pelicans, two gopher tortoises, two raccoons and a black skimmer were released this past week.

Special Thanks

Von Arx Hospital thanks staff at the Foot and Ankle Management Group on Goodlette Road for donating various foot bandages to help our rehabilitating nine-banded armadillo. The donated bandages are adding padding and protection for the armadillo’s sensitive feet.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy website at www.conservancy.org to view all of the amazing volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Your volunteer time, donations, and memberships are vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is the director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Call 239-262-2273 or see conservancy.org