Laura-Lee Cholette, assistant superintendant at the Upper Canada Golf Course, is someone who gives a ‘hoot’.
In May of this year, following a big windstorm, Laura-Lee spotted what she thought was a chunk of paper near the trees north of the par three third green. On closer inspection, the chunk of paper turned out to be a baby bird, later identified as a Great Horned Owl.
So began Laura-Lee’s rescue, which included the Owl’s turn over to the Wild Bird Centre in Ottawa, its summer spent growing up at the Owl Foundation near Niagara Falls and its subsequent release back home on Sunday, October 9 at the Upper Canada Bird Sanctuary.
“They estimated it was only two weeks old when I found it and explained to me that at that age it wasn’t at the branch stage yet,” says Laura-Lee. (The branch stage, about six weeks old, is when the young owl is old enough to sit on a branch and wait for its parents to bring food.)
Initially, Laura-Lee left the unidentified bird, but after finishing work and returning home, she couldn’t get if off her mind.
She contacted the Wild Bird Centre in Ottawa and was instructed to return it to the tree and wait for three hours to see if the parents would return.
So back she went, a ladder was located, and she set the baby bird back up on a branch. After three hours, the parents had not showed up, and she returned home.
“The next day it was on the ground again.”
“It could stand up with no problem and its claws were huge. It even hissed at me.”
Fearing it was unlikely the baby would survive, Laura packed it up and took it to the Wild Bird Centre.
“It was neat,” she says. “They actually got four at the time, because of the wind storm.”
It was there that the baby bird was identified as a Great Horned Owl.
From the Wild Bird Centre, the baby was sent to The Owl Foundation, an owl rehabilitation centre located at Vineland Station in the Niagara Peninsula, where it was raised to the age it could survive on its own.
“They had a foster mom who took in six babies,” says Laura-Lee.
When release time came, Laura-Lee was contacted. Also being returned to the area was a Screech Owl that had been found in Cooper’s Marsh in August. Preferred releases are done within a reasonable distance from where the owls are originally found.
“I was supposed to pick her up in Napanee, but luckily Patty Summers from the Wild Bird Centre in Ottawa was in Guelph and she was able to drive them here.”
Laura-Lee says she was totally impressed with the beautiful bird that was returned to her.
“Her wing span was three feet, and she was probably 1.5 feet tall. She was gorgeous.”
The Screech Owl, (later released at the Marsh) was “very tiny. It was the size of my guy’s head.”
In front of family and friends, Laura-Lee released the Horned Owl at the Bird Sanctuary.
Per instructions, the box was opened near trees “so she could look for a perching option. The last I saw of her, she was flying off over the trees.”
“They explained to me that if there is room she will stay, but if there is already a pair around she will move on. I actually wanted to take her home. She was beautiful.”
Describing her feelings as happy “because it is now free” and sad “because it is alone”, Laura-Lee says the rescue was a “wonderful experience”. She says she has certainly learned a lot about owls.
The Great Horned Owl is the most widely distributed true owl in the Americas. It can have a wingspan of 40-60 inches and the females are larger than the males. They have large ear tufts, reddish brown or grey faces, and their irises are yellow.
All mated Great Horned Owls are permanent residents of their territories. After hatching, they move onto tree branches at about six weeks and fly about one week later. They stay with their parents for several months.
As for Laura-Lee, she will now be listening for ho-ho-hoo, hoo, hoo, the call of a Great Horned Owl, and wondering if it is her rescued baby.