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From duct to wilds of Sooke for owlets

Oct 17 2012
Barn owls at Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre. 

Barn owls at Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre.

Photograph by: Christina Carrieres , Special to Times Colonist

Three young barn owls are starting a new life near Kemp Lake in Sooke after being rescued from a refrigeration duct and raised by wildlife rehabilitators at B.C. SPCA's Wild Animal Rehabilitation Centre.

The barn owls, which are listed as birds of special concern provincially and an endangered species federally, were in a nest in a refrigeration duct in a Sobeys grocery warehouse under construction in Sidney.

Wild ARC was contacted in mid-June to see what could be done to help the chicks, said wildlife rehabilitator Christina Carrieres.

None of the options explored by Wild ARC and wildlife biologists from the Forests Ministry were ideal because the chicks were so young, she said.

An attempt to introduce the chicks to another nest in Central Saanich failed, Car-rieres said.

"Although far from ideal, it was ultimately decided that it was in the babies' best interest to take them to Wild ARC to be raised in captivity for eventual release back into the wild, leaving the parents behind in search of their missing babies," she said.

Funding for the rehabilitation was donated by Wales McLelland Construction Co., which is building the warehouse.

Three nestlings between two and three weeks old and one five-week-old fledgling were taken in, but one died days before the release.

The chicks were handfed every hour through an opening at the back of their nest box to limit human contact, Carrieres said.

"The older fledgling was also in the aviary and, once he started to eat on his own, the younger siblings were able to observe him catching prey and learn from his experience," she said.

Toward the end of their stay, the owls were offered live prey to ensure they were ready for freedom.

Around Kemp Lake, threats from vehicles are minimal and there is less likelihood of pesticide use, which, with habitat loss, is a major threat to barn owls, Carrieres said.

"A nest box was installed in a private barn surrounded with fields, where rodents such as voles, a staple of the barn owl diet, are abundant," she said.

Now Wild ARC staff are hoping they have given the owls sufficient training.

"These young owls serve as a reminder of the effects that our ongoing urban development is having on the rest of the natural world," Carrieres said.


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