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A Second Chance for A Young Owl

Written By Leeann Donnelly

Posted 07/06/17

Updated 04/08/24

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On a late summer afternoon, Chase Pickering stood on a hill behind Biltmore House, surveying the area to ensure the conditions were just right for welcoming a young Great Horned Owl back into its natural habitat.

The conditions were indeed perfect. Leafy green trees hugged the area’s perimeter. The warm sun was low in the clear blue sky.

Chase works at Biltmore in the Marketing Department, and grew honing a respect and love for wildlife – birds of prey, in particular. He has volunteered with various organizations that specialize in wildlife rehabilitation, and is trained in wildlife release.

Backstory of a Baby Owl

Owl release at Biltmore

When this particular owl was brought to the Wild for Life: Center for Rehabilitation of Wildlife in Asheville, N.C., he was a chick, still feathered almost entirely in down, having not yet grown his adult plumage. He was extremely thin and emaciated with damaged tail feathers.

Chase worked with the Wild for Life staff on the bird’s rehabilitation. The course of care included a specialized diet and sub-cutaneous fluids, and force feeding the bird tiny mice. After just three days, it began eating on its own – an excellent sign for full recovery.

In a month’s time, the owl had grown mature feathers and was ready to be moved to an outside enclosure. It was placed in the enclosure with Wild for Life’s Great Horned Ambassador, Odessa.

Enter Odessa, Surrogate Mom

Odessa has been an ambassador for the organization for 12 years, initially coming to the facility after being caught on a barbed wire fence. Due to her injuries, she was not able to return to the wild. Instead, she became an ambassador, and now she and 12 other non-releasable birds of prey make up the organization’s educational program team.

Staff members weren’t sure if the two birds would interact well so they put the birds in the enclosure with a see-through divider. However, the juvenile owl had other ideas. Overnight, somehow the young one squeezed through the divider and sat next to the adult owl.  Odessa took on this new role of surrogate like a perfect owl parent!

As the rehabilitation bird grew up, “parent and child” were relocated to Wild for Life’s largest flight enclosure.  In the 60-foot long flight space the bird learned how to fly, developed flight muscles, learned how to catch live prey, grew mature feathers and built up stamina.

A Good Day for Flying

owl release at biltmore

Then, the day arrived for the owl’s release. “This is the best day of rehabilitation – getting an animal back into the wild where it can live out the life it was given,” Chase said.

Wearing long leather gloves pulled up above his elbows, Chase reached into the owl’s carrier and grasped its feet. He gently pulled the bird out, careful to cradle him close. He stood still for a few minutes to calm the owl and allow it to look around.

Chase then walked to the perfect tree-covered spot, and gently lifted the bird skyward. The owl flapped his wings, and launched out of Chase’s hands, but flew only a few seconds. He floated to the ground, and sat for awhile, seemingly to gather his wits. It wasn’t long, though, before he spread this wings again, and in a graceful, swooping arc, up into the trees he went.

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