The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 20, 2011

Live and owlet live

By Pat Christman
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — Calvary Cemetery caretaker Terry Miller wasn’t sure what he was looking at when he first saw the tuft of off-white fur under a bush.

“I thought it was a cat or something,” Miller said.

Then it turned and looked at him, and he knew it was something else.

After a call to the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, Miller discovered the furry ball was a great horned owl chick that had fallen from the nest in a nearby tree.

This one was only around 2 weeks old at the time. The chicks usually don’t fly until they are 6 to 8 weeks old and would probably be killed by another predator if not protected and fed by the mother, Raptor Center staff told him. They recommended leaving the chick under the bush if it didn’t appear injured.

The nearby mother was definitely defending its baby, as Miller and his staff discovered when they first tried to mow the grass near the chick.

“It would hiss at us. Then the mother would swoop down and scare us off,” Miller said. “No one wanted to go near it.”

They stayed away, watching it each day as visitors, keeping their distance from the nest, came to check on the cemetery’s boarder. Last weekend it seemed like it was ready to fly, Miller said.

“It had gotten really big and you could see all the feathers,” he said.

When he came to work Monday morning, the baby was gone, after about six weeks of hiding under the bush.

The nest remains in the tree, and according to the Raptor Center, the juvenile owl is dependent on the mother all summer and may remain in the area, often not separating until forced to in the fall.