Fledging season for owls means clumsy chicks on the ground

Experts says it's normal to see owl chicks on the ground, and they should be left alone

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An adult great horned owl perched in a redwood tree on the UCSC campus. Photo by Bruce Lyon.

Great horned owls are magnificent birds that regularly nest in the redwood trees on the UCSC campus. Soon the chicks will be leaving their nests, and people may be startled to see a baby owl on the ground in the middle of campus. This is normal, experts say, and people should not approach or pick up a baby owl.

"It's normal for them to be on the ground for the first couple of days after fledging, wandering around in the underbrush," said Bruce Lyon, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. "The parents are nearby, they will feed the chick at night, and people should just leave the birds alone."

Lyon said he is aware of at least one nest that is near a busy path on campus, so it is quite possible that chicks from that nest could end up on the ground where they would be visible to passers by. He emphasized that the birds don't need to be "rescued," unless one is clearly injured or is being harassed by people. If an animal is injured or in harm's way, people should not approach it themselves, but should contact Native Animal Rescue at 462-0726 or county animal control at 454-7227.

"Great horned owls are pretty spectacular birds. The adults are often seen perched in trees near campus buildings--it's another reminder of what a special campus we have," Lyon said.