Volunteers rebuild owl abode

Published 9:19 pm Thursday, April 5, 2018

A family of great horned owls was rescued after a recent storm by a Suffolk bird rescuer and his team of volunteers.

Tommy White, president of Altons’ Keep Wildbird Rescue and Rehabilitation Center in Suffolk, received a call from Bruce and Kim Abernethy on March 23. The Abernethys were concerned about the owls that resided in the woods of their backyard on Windsor Court.

A female great horned owl had been nesting with two babies, both still too young to fly or even leave the nest. The Abernethys had been keeping an eye on the nest for the past few months via a telescope in their kitchen.

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“We started watching them when she was just first sitting on the nest,” Kim Abernethy said in a phone interview.

Ricky Whisonant anchors the nest 80 feet up in a tree. (submitted photo)

After a storm, the couple noticed that the nest was gone, along with the mother owl and one of the babies. The other baby was perched on a branch by itself.

White has received numerous calls in recent weeks about similar great horned owl cases. The breed lays eggs earlier in the year that hatch in the early spring.

“They use old nests that other birds vacated, and a lot of times they’re not very sturdy,” White said in a phone interview. “That’s what happened here. The storm and wind had knocked down their nest.”

White called AKWRRC Board Member Ricky Whisonant and his son, Drake, to join him and the Abernethys the following day.

Whisonant went about climbing the 80-foot pine tree to bring the stranded baby down in a crate. White determined that the baby wasn’t injured.

“He’s like the bird whisperer,” Kim Abernethy said. “He had the bird just laying on his back to check his wings, his legs and his beak. It was totally amazing.”

Bruce Abernethy had located the other baby earlier that morning and placed it safely inside a box. The youngster had survived the cold winds and fall unscathed.

“It was a miracle the baby on the ground was alive,” White said. “They only weigh like a pound, and predators would typically get them.”

Kim Abernethy bought a hanging flower basket to rebuild the nest and fed the grounded baby in the warmth of their sun porch. She said the hungry bird was bigger than she thought it would be from what she saw in the telescope.

“I would just get a little piece of meat on the scissors tongs, and he would gobble it right up,” she said. “Then he got full and just turned into this cute ball of fluff with huge eyes.”

Whisonant fit the metal planter into the notch of the treetop where the former nest rested, then fastened it with chains and wire ties before laying straw over everything. In less than an hour, the babies were placed inside their new nest.

The mother owl had returned as they worked and kept a close watch, White said. She jumped from branch to branch and peered at her young inside the new nest suspiciously at first.

“I was so afraid the momma wouldn’t come back, but within an hour she was right back in that nest again,” Kim Abernethy said.

As of Thursday, the birds were doing well in their new abode.

“They’re getting bigger, and momma is still bringing them squirrels and rabbits, all thanks to Tommy and his tree climber guy,” Bruce Abernethy said.