I work with Volunteers for Wildlife, a rescue, rehabilitation and education organization at Bailey Arboretum in Locust Valley. Trying to help injured, displaced or sick creatures can be heartbreaking; survival is never certain. However, when it works, it is simply beautiful.
I got a rescue call from a woman in Muttontown. She had found a young great horned owl on the ground. When I arrived, I saw a 2- to 3-week-old owl. It has already been placed in a carrier for safety.
Owl chicks are often found on the ground after their first flight attempts fail. They're not strong enough. In more natural settings, a chick would remain earthbound, quiet and inconspicuous, while still being fed and protected by its parents. Eventually, chicks climb or fly to a safer, more elevated perches. However, on Long Island there are cats, dogs, cars and other ground-based terrors, so rescuers need options.
I examined the chick and it seemed fine. If I could locate the nest, I might have been able to put it back, but no luck. My next option was to construct a makeshift nest, anchor it in a tree and deposit the chick out of harm's way.
The homeowner was very helpful. A wire basket was found, along with a long ladder and plenty of rope. I wove some pine branches into the wire to make this nest safe and comfortable.
I selected a tree with a good spot about 15 feet high, and lashed the nest in. I then grabbed the chick, wide-eyed and beak clacking, and placed it in the nest. It quickly calmed down.
Now all that was needed were the parents, but they were absent. I hoped that they were nearby, possibly well concealed. I gave the homeowner a recording of the hunger screeches of owl chicks. These advertise the presence of chicks to adults; they might also encourage our chick to start calling as well. I gave the owner as much information as possible and headed home to see what news the night might bring.
A nervous night to be sure, but sometimes the spirits of nature smile on us all! The homeowner called to say that the parents had responded to the recordings (and to her own owl hoots). I drove over and climbed a ladder. I saw the chick in the nest looking healthy and active. And it was accompanied in the nest by the greatest sight of all -- LUNCH! It was a partially eaten squirrel, evidence that the elders were tending to the chick.
The parents had done their duty and would probably continue to do so. Some rescues are better than others, and Earth Day is best enjoyed by helping one creature at a time.
Reader Jim Jones lives in Bayville.