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March means baby raptors

Photo: The Raptor Center

The three photos in this post show different ages of great horned owlets. The first chicks (above) are about two-and-a-half weeks old. The second picture with the chicks near their nest tree are about three to three-and-a-half weeks old. The last photo is of a chick about five weeks old.

As the days continue to get longer, The Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota anticipates the upcoming raptor baby season.

Typically it begins with great horned owls which lay their eggs as early as the end of January and incubate them during the harshest Minnesota winter weather. Eggs start hatching at the end of February, and by mid-March the downy juveniles can often be detected in the nest.

Great horned owls do not build their own nests. Most often, they use the old stick nests of hawks and crows, although sometimes they lay eggs on structures such as platforms, unused machinery, and decks of abandoned buildings.

The old nests are usually worn from previous use, winter weather, or even exploration by raccoons and other predators, and do not have the integrity to support owl babies as they grow.  Thus, a relatively large number of great horned owlets come out of the nest before they can fly.

In the majority of these instances, they land uninjured and the female will raise them on the ground, feeding and fiercely protecting them from potential predators (including humans) during hours of darkness.

What can you do?

If you find a juvenile great horned owl on the ground or perched on an unusual structure, DO NOT REMOVE IT.  Please contact The Raptor Center (phone 612-624-4745 or email raptor@umn.edu) for guidance. Humans cannot raise raptor babies as effectively as can their own parents.

The majority of the time the adults are close by, raising their youngsters in a fashion typical of the species, even if we don’t immediately see them.

The rearing behaviors of raptors do differ by species, so as the baby season continues and youngsters from other owl and hawk species appear, please DO NOT REMOVE THEM from near their family. Please contact The Raptor Center to determine if intervention is really necessary. We all want to do the right thing by our feathered friends. The Raptor Center can help with advice on each instance to make sure that these raptor families stay healthy and together.

Note: This post first appeared on The Raptor Center’s blog.

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