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Does the owl need help?
Not all owls on the ground need help. If it is a young owlet with a fuzzy head and body but has fully grown wing feathers and a stubby tail, it is a fledgling just learning to fly. Spending some time on the ground is a normal part of their life, since it takes them days to weeks to learn how to fly well, depending on the species. Mom and Dad are usually nearby taking care of them, whether you see them or not. Owlets at this stage only need help if they are injured or both parents have been killed. If the owlet is in a dangerous location, it can be picked up and moved to a safer location by nudging the back of its legs with a stick to get it to step up or by using leather gloves. Parents will not reject their young just because they were touched by humans.Fledgling owls can actually climb trees using their feet, beaks, and flapping their wings. They do this especially well when placed near a sloping tree trunk. Any adult owl on the ground that you can walk up to needs help.
How do I safely pick up an owl that needs help?
First find a cardboard box that will be big enough to hold the owl without bending any feathers and tall enough for the owl to stand. Punch air holes in the box and put an old towel or shirt in the bottom of the box. (A pet carrier covered with a towel or blanket will also work.) Don't use a wire cage--this can damage the owl's feathers enough to prevent it from being released until it goes through another molt.
Slowly approach the owl and toss a towel, blanket, or jacket over it. Watch out for the feet and beak, and press the owl's wings to its body through the blanket. Carefully pick it up and place it in the box. Close the box and either tape it securely shut or interlock the flaps. Close the box securely no matter how little the owl is moving when you find it. More than one person has had an owl "wake up" and get lose in their vehicle while transporting it!
What should I do with the owl until I can get it to a rehabilitator?
It is very important to minimize stress to the owl, so keep the owl in as quiet a location as possible, away from kids and pets. If transporting in a vehicle, keep the radio off and voices low, and brake and accelerate slowly.
If you have to hold on to the owl for a while before it can get to a wildlife rehabilitator, place the box half on and half off a heating pad set on low. This way the owl can chose if it needs extra warmth.
Where can I find a wildlife rehabilitator in my area?
Go to The Wildlife Rehabilitation Directory for a listing of wildlife rehabilitators across the United States and around the world. Even if you are unable to transport the owl to the closest rehabilitator, call the rehabilitator anyway. Many rehabilitators have a network of people who will pick up and transport birds for them.
By the time you are able to pick up a sick or injured owl, it is already in really bad shape. Don't wait to find a rehabilitator...the owl needs help as soon as is possible.
The owl is so tame, can I let my kids hold it?
If the owl is acting "tame" it is usually on the brink of death and doesn't have the energy to put up a fight. DO NOT handle an owl that acts tame...the stress of being held could kill it at this stage.
I'm good with animals. Can't I just take care of the owl myself?
Special training and permits are required to care for sick and injured wildlife in the United States because such specialized care is required. Other countries may have similar laws. Orphans need to be raised by parents of their own species so they don't imprint on humans. Often fluid therapy and antibiotics are needed. Broken bones need to be set. Don't try to care for the owl on your own. Do what's best for the owl and get it to someone who has the knowledge and the facilities to properly care for it.
The International Owl Center advances the survival of wild owl populations through education and research. We plan to accomplish our mission through biological and cultural programs and displays, green building design, citizen-science and other research, international exchange of information, the World Owl Hall of Fame, the International Festival of Owls, and other means.