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Rehabilitating Eric, A Tawny Owl Chick
Rehabilitating Eric| Finding a Foster Family
This is the story of a rescued tawny owl chick named Eric and how he is fostered by a family of wild owls.
Rehabilitating Eric & Ernie | August
Almost Time to Leave Home
It’s almost time for Eric & Ernie to find territories of their own. In the meantime, they are toughening up alongside their foster siblings in the wild summer storms we’ve been experiencing here in Yorkshire this week.
We’ve had such heavy rain, even the adult male has been soaked through. He is still hunting to feed the chicks and gets wet diving into the long grass to catch prey.
The chicks meanwhile are sodden since rain soaks right through their downy feathers. But although they look utterly bedraggled, rain like this no longer presents a danger to them. These chicks are almost ready to move to new territories and will soon grow all their adult feathers and begin hunting for themselves.
Already the adult owls have begun the long process of chasing them away and nights here in my Yorkshire garden have become very noisy.
I hope you enjoy the following video featuring five of the chicks, all looking quite comical with their funky wet hairdos. I’m afraid I can no longer tell you which of the chicks are Eric & Ernie, they’ve integrated into this new family so well!
Rehabilitating Eric & Ernie | Week Five
Accepted by Their Foster Owl Family
Eric and Ernie have been living out in the wild for a week now. Both owlets are doing really well and look very healthy. This is a clear sign they’ve been accepted by the wild owls I placed them with. The video below follows me as I check on their progress in a line of sycamore trees close to my home. Spotting owls in a tree canopy can be tricky. But on windy nights like this, I look for them sheltering against the leeward side of the trunks.
It will be another six weeks before Eric & Ernie are ready to survive on their own, but their new foster family will continue to feed them during this time. These adult owls are already caring for four chicks of their own, so with Eric and Ernie to feed as well, I’ve been putting extra food out for them at night.
Watch the following clip to see the special relationship I’ve developed with these wild tawny owls. I put food out on a branch and then wait for the owls swoop down to carry it down to feed their chicks. This is how I ensure that fostering projects like this work.
Rehabilitating Eric & Ernie | Week Four
Out into the Wild
Eric and Ernie are both living out in the wild with their new wild owl foster parents. After a week in their outdoor aviary, they were both a good weight and their flight feathers well developed so it was time to introduce them to their new foster family. I carried them into the valley below my garden where a pair of adult tawny owls are caring for chicks of their own. Before putting them into a nest box close to these owls, I donned protective clothing. Tawny owls are very protective birds and these ones not afraid of me so I had to be careful. Adult owls will attack if they hear a chick ‘clacking’ its beak and since this is the sound a chick makes when it feels afraid I fully expected Eric and Ernie to call out. A tawny owl attack can be very serious – these birds have been known to take people’s eyes out!
Below is a new video following the story of Eric and Ernie’s release. Listen out for the clacking sound Ernie makes as he is placed into the nest first. And keep watching to see them both fledge. It’s always a special moment to see a bird fly for the first time and, of course, if you’ve cared for the bird as I have cared for these owlets, it’s even more amazing.
Eric was the first to fledge. He is older and so that was inevitable. But watch the film to see how Ernie responds once Eric has gone. He looks a bit bemused! Then the moment comes when Ernie takes the plunge. Watch how he bobs his head before he finally leaps. Tawny owl eyes are fixed in their heads so this bobbing is actually how they gauge distances.
These owlets were more than ready to fledge. Ideally, I would have liked to have seen the parent owls feed them in the nest box first, but I knew the adult tawnys would respond to their calls of hunger and that’s just what happened.
Click on the image below to watch the video of their release.
Rehabilitating Eric | Week Three
Eric Gets a Friend, Named Ernie
Eric is now ready to be introduced to his new foster family, the wild owls in the valley below my garden. But bad weather is forecast this weekend, so I’ve decided to keep him a little longer.
Which is just as well because now a new tawny owlet has come in for rehabilitation. This one comes from Ryedale Rehabilitation and it makes sense to put him in with Eric. Naturally, I’ve named this owlet Ernie.
I’ve put both owlets into an outdoor aviary for the weekend to get them used to being outside until it’s time to take them into the valley for my wild owls to take them in as surrogate chicks. If it gets too cold I’ll bring them back in but all being well they will both be ready to be released into the wild with the parent owls next week.
Watch the following clip to see Eric and Ernie as they are introduced to one another.
Rehabilitating Eric | Week Two
Withdrawing Human Contact
Eric is my latest charge. He arrived last week from a wildlife orphanage where he had been in intensive care after being found in very poor condition, weighing just 100gs. He is now healthy and almost ready to be introduced to his new foster family.
First I need to break his trust of humans. To do this I am slowly withdrawing contact. At the orphanage, Eric was accustomed to being fed by hand, but here I throw his food into his box and walk away. This didn’t work at first and Eric refused to feed himself. He cheeped and cheeped until I gave in and fed him beakfuls of chopped up food, allowing him to take the food from a pair of tweezers rather than my fingers, but now he is getting the hang of things. Click on the link below to watch Eric take a luxurious stretch in his box.
Rehabilitating Eric | Week One
Eric still has to grow his adult feathers. He is roughly the age of what is known as the ‘branchling’ stage tawny owlets go through when they leave the nest to explore the tree branches nearby. During this period, their parents continue to feed them from their branches, but the owlets are still a long way from being able to fly and feed themselves.
My plan is to place Eric into a nest box close to the tree where the tawny owls in my garden are already feeding their own ‘branchling’ owlets. The idea is that the adult owls will hear Eric calling for food and be unable to distinguish the sound from the noises their own chicks make and so instinctively feed him.
The owls in my garden are the inspiration for my paintings. Take a look here at my collection of owl artwork featuring birds such as Eric:
Read about other owls I have fostered here:
How it all began: My story of persuading tawny owls to adopt:
Last year the tawny owls in my garden adopted readily:
I’ve also had success persuading barn owls to foster owlets:
Author: Robert E Fuller