A California woman received an unexpected shock when she opened her friend’s chicken coop to find a baby great horned owl among the domesticated birds.
When a friend of California resident Melissa Walker-Scott went out of town, she of course agreed to watch over her friend’s chickens. She was told there were only two chickens, though, so she was somewhat perplexed to find three birds lounging in the coop.
But Walker-Scott was about to be even more shocked, as the bird wasn’t a chicken at all. “It was just this big puff of gray, stripy feathers,” Walker-Scott told SLO Tribune. “I walked in and I thought, ‘That’s the weirdest chicken.'”
Reaching out to touch the mystery bird, it spun around, puffing out to its greatest size as it revealed itself to be a baby great horned owl. Jumping back from the agitated bird of prey, Walker-Scott reached out to the Pacific Wildlife Center for help.
Not only was she ill-equipped to handle an owl herself but she assumed the baby had fallen out of a nearby tree and injured itself, as there was blood on its beak.
“He was so cute!” said the woman who found the owl in her friend’s chicken pen. https://t.co/Rrp4r2Yau6— The Tribune (@SLOTribune) May 13, 2023
Arriving at the wildlife center, rescuers noted the owl had abrasions on its nostrils and blood on its left eye. Thankfully, however, it was more than healthy enough for a quick and successful rehabilitation.
After just two days at the center, PWC volunteer Bob Peak returned the baby owl to its tree. Even he had to handle the bird carefully, however, as great horned owls are notoriously aggressive.
“[Great horned owls are] ornery,” he said. “They’re very strong and they know it. They’re very confident.”
It’s not unusual for a baby great horned owl to fall from its nest
All raptors are fascinating, but great horned owls are perhaps the most interesting of all. They’re not only powerful birds of prey but pirates as well.
Unlike other birds, great horned owls don’t build their own nests. Instead, they commandeer their homes from hawks, crows, ospreys, and squirrels. A particularly ambitious owl might even steal from a bald eagle.
Unfortunately, however, these second-hand nests aren’t always in the best shape. As a result, it’s not all that unusual for a baby great horned owl to fall from its nest.
But, as Peak explained, they’re the right combination of strong, confident, and cantankerous. So even when baby owls fall from their nests, they’re usually safe from predation.
Parents do have to watch out for potential predators, but the crushing power of 500 pounds per square inch in each talon makes them perfectly capable of severing the spine of large prey. They don’t have much problem keeping coyotes at bay.
Because of this, Peak didn’t actually deposit the great horned owl back into its nest. To protect himself from the parents’ wrath and ensure a positive reunion, he put the baby on a nearby branch instead.
As he hoped, it didn’t take long for the owls to find each other again. After a few days of receiving food from its mother, the baby made its way back to the nest on its own.