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Out & About: VINS reports busy May at bird rehab facility

  • Two baby barred owls sit in a nest made by staff at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. The two baby owls were found in early May and placed in a nest in Quechee. (Photograph courtesy of Vermont Institute of Natural Science)

  • A baby barred owl sits in a nest made by staff at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science. (Photograph courtesy of Vermont Institute of Natural Science)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/18/2020 9:07:43 PM
Modified: 5/18/2020 9:07:39 PM

QUECHEE — Two barred owlets were among two of more than 50 birds that staff at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science have treated this month.

“I think it might actually be our busiest May that we’ve had on record,” said Grae O’Toole, lead wildlife keeper at the Quechee-based nonprofit organization. “Spring has definitely sprung extra early.”

This time last year, O’Toole estimated that VINS cared for about half that amount.

On the least day of April, the organization received its first baby songbird of the season.

“They were three weeks early,” O’Toole said.

The increase can also be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I do think that a lot of it is people are kind of at home now because of COVID-19 now. People are working remotely, a lot of people are doing a lot more yard work, or going on more walks outside,” O’Toole said. “There’s just more of a possibility of finding injured wildlife at this point.”

Staff are also seeing fewer birds who have been hit by cars.

The two young owls were brought in at the start of the month. The first was found on the roadside by a passerby in Walpole, N.H.

“He did not have any injuries that we were seeing,” O’Toole said. “With baby raptors we try to find a re-nest if possible because they can be very difficult to raise.”

Days later, VINS received a call about another barred owlet, this one in Quechee. Staff got to the site and were able to locate its parents and their nest, but it was in a bad location. Instead, they decided to make the owls a new nest.

“We just had a laundry basket basically filled with leaves and sticks to cushion them and we fashioned it to a tree near the nest location,” O’Toole said.

The babies were put in the new nest on Mother’s Day.

“That barred owl adopted a new baby,” O’Toole said. The Quechee barred owl accepted the Walpole barred owlet as its own.

Pairing young raptors that are the same species is a common practice at VINS.

“If they’re roughly the same size and age, we like to put them together so they have the company and feel a little less stressed in a rehab environment,” O’Toole said.

That is particularly important because of imprinting, which is how a bird identifies itself, O’Toole explained. If barred owlets interact with adult barred owls, they start to identify as a barred owl.

“They will actually begin to realize and think ‘I am a barred owl,’ ” O’Toole said. “But if a baby barred owl comes to us and they start seeing humans feeding them and caring for them, they may begin to see themselves as humans. Not a barred owl.”

Because of that, VINS staff do not talk to the birds when they feed them and wear masks to cover their faces. For birds that are housed alone, they put mirrors in their enclosures so that they can see for themselves what species they are.

Editor’s Note: If you find an injured bird, contact VINS at 802-359-5000, ext. 212. Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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