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Five Barn Owls Fly Free:

by Kevin Mack - PAWS Wildlife Naturalist


On May 5, employees at the Quincy Animal Shelter in Eastern Washington discovered a box sitting on their doorstep. It was not surprising to find a box on the doorstep of the shelter as the appearance of the mystery box is a common occurrence in the animal sheltering world. But the box on the doorstep of the Quincy shelter did not contain the expected puppies or kittens. Instead, workers who opened the box came face to face with five downy Barn Owl chicks. There was no note or information of any kind left with the birds so reuniting them with their parents was not a possibility. The shelter contacted PAWS Wildlife Center for help, and we dispatched a volunteer to retrieve the owls and transport them to Lynnwood for care.

All five Barn Owls thrived during their time here at the center. A June 9 post on the PAWS Blog provided an update on their progress. By the end of June, all five owls had reached the point where they were ready and able to fend for themselves. On June 29 I transported them back over the Cascade Mountains to a 4,000 acre wildlife preserve called Swauk Creek Ranch. This would become their new home. Swauk Creek Ranch manager Eric Morris assisted with the release. The following photographs tell the story.

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The first owl was reluctant to leave the perceived safety of the box. We decided to let him think it over while we released the other owls.
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When we opened the second owl’s box she had no reservations about taking flight. She immediately launched herself skyward.
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She flew about 100 yards and landed on a perch in a nearby stand of cottonwood trees.
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Eric opened the third owl’s box, expecting the owl to fly away from him in the direction the box was pointing. Instead, the owl turned 180-degrees and flew right in front of Eric’s face.
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After flying in front of Eric, the owl continued on, disappearing into tall trees along the ranch property’s namesake Swauk Creek.
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The fourth owl was also a bit reluctant to leave the box. He stayed put for several minutes, eyeing us suspiciously. When he finally decided to fly, it happened so quickly that I didn’t even get a photograph.
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The last owl exited his box immediately and flew almost straight up.
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As he was gaining altitude, above me, I managed to capture this photo.
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When he was satisfied that he was high enough above Eric and I, the owl turned toward the cottonwood stand.
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He gained speed and disappeared into the trees.
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With the other four owls now free, we turned our attention back to the first owl that was still sitting tight in his box. Eric gave the owl some gentle encouragement to leave, and the bird backed out of the box in a defensive posture.
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Now out of the box, the owl continued to keep up his defenses. He was not willing to turn his back on us to fly away. We backed up about 25 yards and stood behind a truck. After waiting about 10 more minutes the owl still had not taken flight.
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I decided to call the owl’s bluff by walking toward him. He first intensified his defensive display, but when I came within arm’s reach of him he took off for the safety of the trees.
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To get his bearings, the owl flew in a wide circle. For a moment he was just a silhouette against the clouds.
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After completing his circle, the owl seemed to make up his mind. Now he began to fly in a straight line to the northwest.
Picture from Wild AgainThe owl flew over the top of the cottonwood trees and disappeared from view.
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After the release, some of the owls could still be seen resting in the cottonwoods.
Picture from Wild AgainKnowing that all five birds were secure on high perches, we left them to become acquainted with their new home.



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