Puff and Fluff, the baby owls that Forest Service firefighters saved during the Carstens Fire in June, are finally home. Terri Williams of the Fresno Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Service released the Western Screech-Owls on July 24 near where they were found over a month ago in a downed tree in the Sierra National Forest.
The birds were weak and dehydrated when Williams first received them from the Forest Service on June 20. But under her care, Puff and Fluff tripled in weight, enjoying a steady diet of mice, day-old chicks and crickets. They grew strong and healthy and soon began showing signs that they were ready for release into the wild. According to Williams, the owls were tearing their own food, eating a whole mouse in one gulp, catching crickets, flying easily, finding hiding places in their enclosure during the day, and showing appropriate defensive actions towards humans, such as beak-clacking and hissing.
Another tell-tale sign that the owls had matured was their recent drop in weight. As babies, owls beef up quickly for rapid growth. When it is time for fledging, they are often too heavy for easy flight – sometimes even heavier than an adult. According to Williams, they put on extra weight so they can survive the “thin” times when they are perfecting their hunting skills. The drop in appetite and weight corresponds with the time they leave the nest site, and when food from their parents is less reliable. The weight loss also helps them fly better.
“For me, (the release back into the wild) is like a graduation and a return to freedom,” Williams said. “There is nothing like watching a bird really fly free when it has been limited to an enclosed flight area.
“When they have had a second chance at survival it is especially exciting,” she said. “These two were initially cautious about leaving the carrier, but once they did they flew confidently and landed perfectly on a branch in the same beautiful coniferous forest they had come from.”