Owlets rescued after mom injured in ice storm

Monday's ice storm wreaked havoc on the region, but the weather didn't just cause damage to trees and hydro lines. It also put a family of great horned owls in great danger.

A mother owl is recovering with her two babies after being seriously injured in Monday's ice storm

The two owlets were resting close to their mother in Anouk Hoedeman's home earlier this week. Hoedeman is involved with Safe Wings Ottawa, an organization that works to reduce bird deaths caused by window collisions. (Safe Wings/Facebook)

Monday's ice storm wreaked havoc on the region, but the weather didn't just cause damage to trees and hydro lines. It also put a family of great horned owls in great danger.

A female great horned owl and her two owlets are resting and recuperating in an Ottawa home after the mother owl was knocked from her nest by falling ice on Petrie Island, leaving her offspring stranded and without her protection.

Humans make life really hard for most wildlife, so I think that when we have a chance to help them, we should.- Anouk Hoedeman, Safe Wings Ottawa

"​The mother's still in pretty rough shape. She suffered quite a blow to the head," said Anouk Hoedeman of the bird rescue group Safe Wings Ottawa. 

Hoedeman is taking care of the three birds and said although the mother is doing much better than yesterday, she needs to stay put.

Given how exposed the owlets were, Hoedeman said it was a surprise they weren't injured in the storm, too. 

"We were expecting them to be hypothermic ... but when they showed up — somebody drove them over to my place — they were pretty perky, actually," she said. "It was a little surprising because they could have easily been hit by ice, too."

The rescue

Wilson Hum has been photographing birds for over a decade, and had been following this particular owl family's progress for about a month, as were many other birders in the area. 

Wilson Hum said birders in the area are very familiar with the great horned owl family, and had been keenly following the progress of the mother and her two babies on Petrie Island. (Wilson Hum)

Hum spent some time photographing the birds on the weekend, and said he became worried about the owls when the storm hit. 

"I had a feeling something would happen," he said.

Hum went back to check up on the birds around 6:30 p.m. Monday and was told the mother had been hit by falling ice around 11 a.m., and was taken into someone's home for care. The two owlets were still there, exposed to the wind, rain and falling ice. 

Safe Wings Ottawa was able to recruit a tree climber to fetch the little birds. When the climber descended with the owlets safely stowed in a gym bag — with cushioning inside provided by towels from Hum's car — the small crowd of onlookers that had gathered at the base of the tree high-fived one another.

"It was awesome," Hum said, "Everybody's mood just changed." 

Coming together to help

It's still touch and go for the mother owl, but she's now able to sit upright — a good sign, Hoedeman said. 

Hoedeman, who has never cared for owls before, is in contact with Ottawa's Wild Bird Care Centre and the Owl Foundation in the Niagara Peninsula to get the advice she needs to properly tend to the family. 

The owlets were being kept in a box with a heating pad, in sight of their mother. They have since been moved to The Owl Foundation in the Niagara Region. (Safe Wings Ottawa/Facebook )

"The Owl Foundation would be happy to take the whole family right now, but I don't think she can handle such a long drive right now," she said. "We could send just the owlets ahead because they have a foster mom down there, but I think we need to give this mother more time to see how she does, because if she's able to care for them, that's much better."

Hoedeman added that she's thankful for the volunteers who rescued the birds, and to those who donated frozen mice for the babies and electrolytes and medication for the mother. 

"I think it's great all the people who came together to rescue this little family," she said. "I'm glad everybody cares enough about wildlife to want to help them like that. Humans make life really hard for most wildlife, so I think that when we have a chance to help them, we should."​