FROM ZOO TO YOU What’s to hoot about owls?
There are many owls one can see in Kansas. While it is sometimes hard to spot these nocturnal species, it can be helpful to learn about them as we go into fledgling season.
Owls typically mate in the late winter, and owlets hatch from late April to early October. A nestling is a young owl who is now capable of thermoregulation (regulating its body temperature), but not quite ready to fly. During nest dispersal or branching, a nestling will leave the nest and hide in the surrounding vegetation. Depending on the owl species, it can range from nearby branches or on the ground under shrubs or grasses. Once the nestling gains the ability to fly, they are called fledglings.
Sometimes when fledglings will start to leave the nest, humans find these fledglings on the ground. Just like a toddler learns to walk, it takes a few tries for a fledgling to fly before they are successful. It can take a young owl days to weeks to learn to fly well. Depending on the species, the parents may be nearby helping to feed and care for the fledgling during this time. Fledgling owls will end up climbing a nearby tree using their feet and beak while flapping their wings. Often concerned citizens will find fledgling owls on the ground and believe they need help.
It is important for anyone who finds an owl on the ground to assess the situation. If the owl is small, has a fuzzy head and body but has wing and tail feathers, it is a fledgling learning to fly. Fledglings do not need to be moved unless they are in a dangerous location or injured. The best you can do to help a fledgling is to keep your pets and children away from it and then just leave it alone. If you are unsure of whether it is injured or not, you can check on it occasionally for the next few hours to see if it leaves.
If the owl is truly injured, don’t call the zoo. The zoo does not have the expertise of local wildlife that your local wildlife rehabilitator has. You can do so by visiting ksoutdoors.com/services/rehabilitation to find a list of Kansas rehabilitators. You can also contact the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks since they deal with native wildlife. Wildlife rehabilitators will be able to provide you with further information to give the fledgling the best chance of survival. Wildlife rehabilitators are trained in taking care of injured wildlife and returning them to the wild. They hold special state and federal permits to care for many wildlife species, not just owls.
Owls are a fascinating bird of the night; it is essential for us to leave healthy wildlife alone, especially during fledgling season when they are learning to fly. They have not been abandoned and are most likely not injured. It can be fun to observe wildlife from a distance and maybe learn a thing or two about the species.
Alyssa Mechler is an education specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.