At Vista View Park in Davie, four baby burrowing owls are prompting some wacky human activity.
Burrowing owls are protected in Florida. Their populations are threatened because of habitat destruction that has come as humans develop natural areas. These days, the owls often build their burrows in open fields they find in suburban areas -- at parks, airports, and schools.
The mama owl from one owl family that lives in a burrow at Vista View Park has hurt her leg and was recuperating at the South Florida Wildlife Center in Fort Lauderdale until her release yesterday.
Her injury is from a length of what is thought to be a section of artificial hair weave tangled around her foot. The glob of hair probably looked like an animal to the bird, says parks naturalist Kelli Whitney.
"I think she probably tried to grab it, thinking it was something to eat," Whitney said. "She probably thought she was [grabbing] dinner for her children."
Park staff kept an eye on her as she plucked away part of the annoying material, Whitney said, but some of the strands tightened on her leg to the point that rescuers decided to intervene.
Trapping her was a multiday project accomplished with assistance from a pair of local owl biologists affiliated with the South Florida Audubon Society, Kelly Heffernan and Ernest Leupin.
With mama in recovery, park staff helped the daddy owl feed the kids. But experts say it's important that the impressionable baby owls not associate their food with human faces and human hands.
So Whitney and her cohorts have been wearing disguises to feed the owls. Their outfits have included thick gloves, hoods over their heads, and sunglasses. All that just to drop off some diced rodents and insects, then go.
After delivering meals, the humans have stood back as daddy owl picked up the pieces and scooted down into the tunnel-like dwelling where the hungry babies devoured their feast.
The dad bird still went hunting for food, Whitney said, but if the mother were healthy, both owl parents likely would be out gathering meals for the family.
That's why the staff pitched in. "I think we all feel like owl foster mommies,'' Whitney said.
The wounded mama bird was released yesterday. Veterinarian Renata Schneider, director of rehabilitation for the South Florida Wildlife Center, said she was receiving medication and warm-water soaks for her wound.
Meanwhile, at the park, the camouflaged dinner delivery service attracted attention from passersby.
"Cars slow down and sometimes roll down the window and stare," Whitney said. "A few cars sped off after they saw us."
-- Patti Roth
Here are some pictures of the owl babies:
...and the parents. SO SWEET!!!!
There are more adorable owl pictures on the next page.
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