WSU raising infant horned owls

PULLMAN — Veterinarians at Washington State University are raising nine tiny great horned owls after their nests were destroyed.

Baby horned owls are rarely seen by the public because adult owls aggressively protect them, making it difficult to get near a nest.

The babies, five from one nest and four from another, are being hand-fed until they are strong enough to eat on their own. The first four were brought to the university April 13 at roughly one week old. Just four days later, the second group arrived at only a few days old.

“We’ve had great horned babies before, but in 10 years, I’ve never had any this young,” said Nickol Finch, who oversees the school’s Raptor Rehabilitation Center. “Pretty much all they’re doing is eating and sleeping.”

The palm-sized birds are living at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where they are being fed cut-up mice soaked in water.

Four of the infant owls survived a fall to the ground near Colton after someone unknowingly cut down a tree where they were nesting, Finch said. The other five were brought to a veterinarian in Lewiston, Idaho, after their nest was destroyed inside a chimney during a home remodel.

“With no nest to be returned to, babies on the ground are vulnerable,” Finch said. “At this age, they would probably not survive if left on the ground. The parents will still try to protect them and feed them if they are on the ground, but keeping them warm is another story.”

The owls must be fed three times a day, and if they survive will stand 2 feet tall with a 4-foot wingspan.

Great horned owls are fierce-looking predators with yellow eyes and tufts resembling pointy ears. They hunt rodents, rabbits, snakes and skunks.

People working with the baby owls are instructed not to talk when feeding them.

“It’s important that the owls don’t imprint on humans,” said Finch, who plans to release the baby owls this summer. “The more independent they are, the better.”

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