I have some sad wildlife news to report today. Regular followers of my blog will probably recall that the Ridgefield NWR is home to at least one family of Great Horned Owls (GHO) this year and has been for several previous years. This year, the GHO parents had two offspring which fledged in early May and gave photographers wonderful opportunities to responsibly capture images. Personally, I have made it a point to look for the youngsters each time I visit the refuge and take both still images and video of these amazing creatures. Much of the time they could be found within 15 feet of each other. What a treat to see.
On my trip to the refuge this week (Sep. 4, Tues.), the owls were not in their ‘usual’ tree. I spoke with my brother (and wildlife photographer), Gary, who informed me that a local photographer, Joy Wagner, had spotted one of the owlets perched on the railing of the main entrance bridge to the refuge on August 30. She was able to drive right up to the bird and take photos, and drive on by the bird, without it flying away. It is highly unusual for a Great Horned Owl to perch out in the open on a bridge railing, just a few feet off the ground. It’s even more unusual that the bird would allow a vehicle to approach within six feet without it flying. Something was terribly wrong as Joy alluded to in her Flickr post.
The F&WL Service people were there with equipment to capture the owl before it fell into the river below. The bird was taken to the Audubon Wildlife Care Center in Portland. Here is the statement from these good folks:
Unfortunately, the owl had to be euthanized due to
an untreatable injury. It was stunned and had a compound fracture of its
right humerus. The bone was necrotic which means that we would not have been
able to set it and have it heal.
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
Wildlife Care Center Operations Manager
Audubon Society of Portland [End of statement]
We’ll probably never know what caused the owlet’s injuries. It could have collided with a tree or branch; or, more likely it was the loser in a scuffle with a larger mammal such as a coyote or raccoon, or even a large bird. No matter what, this is a sad situation.
It has been my observation over the past 4 -5 months that one of the two owlets was significantly bigger than the other at the time of fledging. I could see this difference in size up to my last spotting and photos of the two birds together on August 8. My guess is that the smaller owl is the one that met its demise. As a small tribute, here are some photos that I have taken of the owlets this year, including Joy Wagner’s final image.
[Please click on the thumbnails to view larger images].
April 9, 2012 – one of the two owlets in the nest.
Another shot of one owlet from April 9.
April 23, 2012 – the larger owlet is likely staring at the camera and the small one is below it.
May 2, 2012 – One of the two owlets doing some acrobatics for me. Chances are, this is the smaller owl displaying its lack of experience and skill in holding on to the branch and balancing.
The same owl as shown directly above, after it let go of the branch.
May 25, 2012 – Interesting how the “horns” are not as prominent here.
June 14, 2012 –
July 13, 2012 –
July 19, 2012 – I think this is the larger sibling as the breast markings are different from the other photos and its right “horn” is more prominent. In the second of these two photos, the bird is stretching its left wing.
Aug. 1, 2012 – this is the smaller of the two owlets. I could see the other, larger owlet, when I took this shot perched not too far away. Quite a different appearance here for some reason. Only one “horn” is even partially visible.
Aug. 08, 2012 – the smaller owlet stretches out its huge right wing. Looking at this picture, I thought the bird was all but invincible. What a gorgeous creature.
Another frame from Aug. 8. Still one “horn” not visible.
My last shot on Aug. 8 of the smaller owlet. This is the one that I believe passed away.
Below are a couple of videos (shot Aug. 8 ) of the owlet that I believe is now deceased. The first video was shot at 560mm and is a little long. Please excuse the lighting adjustments I made due to the changing lighting conditions in the woods. It looks as if the owl is half asleep but it keeps exhibiting a ‘yawning’ behavior.
This next video was shot at 400mm and shows both of the owlet siblings. The larger owl is in the upper left and the smaller owl in the center.
Below is the photo taken by Joy Wagner Aug. 30, 2012, on the entrance bridge at the Ridgefield NWR. It is posted here with kind permission from Joy. Although it is impossible to know with 100% certainty that this bird and the one pictured above are one in the same, the circumstances of the situation are truly sad. The two owlets I was following disappeared from their ‘favorite’ tree sometime after August 8 and I haven’t seen either one since. I think that the Aug. 1 picture above resembles the bird below the most.
What still perplexes me is how this bird got to the bridge railing? Was it injured near the bridge and then hopped up onto the railing? Did a vehicle hit it? Was it able to fly to this location from wherever it was injured and then gave up trying to fly?
It’s even possible that this bird is from another GHO family at Ridgefield that was not within our view from the auto tour route. But odds are, it’s the smaller of the two birds I have pictured above. Rest in peace and thanks for the memories.
Photo by Joy Wagner