He’s known as The Owl Guy.
The name originated when my husband, Rich, was in the hospital for open heart surgery. He was relegated to a hospital bed for nearly two weeks, and in that time numerous staff members came and went, attending to his needs. Rich was always polite, thanked them profusely and inevitably talked about owls. In particular “his owls.” Soon hospital folks would enter his room and say, “Oh, you’re the Owl Guy!”
For five years, Rich has been watching the same Great Horned Owl couple. Starting in February he stalks the snowy woods near our house in the dark, listening for their hoots, tracking them down until he finds their nest, which often moves from year to year. Once spotted, he haunts the site, watching and photographing the miracle of life. From eggs in the nest under Mama Owl to fully grown and forced out of the territory in the fall, he chronicles the lives of the owlets. From fuzzballs to independent owls. They have become “his owls.”
Rich’s owls first gained fame during the pandemic. Isolated by Covid, Rich spent more hours in the woods than ever, and the owls chose to nest in a spot with a perfect vantage point for photography. There were three owlets that year and Rich blogged about them almost daily, posting pictures of their development and progress. His readership boomed. Others, similarly isolated, followed the owlets – a cute and endearing diversion provided by nature during that period of seclusion. Over time, Rich created a children’s book with his best photographs of the beloved owlets and their journey to adulthood.
This year, there are two owlets. Due to the long, harsh winter Mama laid her eggs much later than usual, and the first fluffball did not appear until well into May, followed by a sibling a week later. Rich was elated, once again back on owlet watch. And then the unthinkable happened.
Fuzzball fell out of the nest.
Rich happened to be near the nest with two trusted photography buddies late one afternoon last week when one of them spotted Fuzzball huddled in a depression, 80 feet below the nest. Estimating the baby bird to be about four weeks old, Rich noted that it did not yet have any flight feathers. It had not even started “branching” yet (walking out on branches near the nest). With the nest at an unreachable height, the poor owlet had no means of survival. Rich donned his falcon gloves (he’s rescued owls before) and laid the frightened but seemingly unharmed bird in a towel-lined tub.
Rich contacted Wildwoods, the local animal rehabilitation center, but they were already closed for the day. As we had dinner with Fuzzball resting nearby, Rich’s brain was churning. Surely the bird would be better off near Mom and Dad than doomed to life in captivity? Was there a way he could create a new nest for Fuzzball, where he could be watched, protected and fed by his parents? Abandoning the unwashed dishes, Rich sprang into action.
I had no idea that a lawn chair could simulate a nest. But apparently Rich did. Covering it with a packing blanket for cushioning and to prevent the bird’s talons from catching in the mesh, he finished it off with bungee cords to hold it all in place. Next he hauled our longest ladder into the woods, and with the help of a family hiking past, he hauled the “nest” as high as he could and secured it with bungees stretching around the tree.
Getting the bird up into the nest was a tricky climb, but at last Fuzzball was installed in his new home.
We both heaved a sigh of relief with Fuzzball off the ground and in sight of his real nest. The question was whether Mom and Dad would find him and take care of him? Sleep was elusive that night.
Morning brought good news. Fuzzball was alert and active – he had survived the night! Rich talked to Wildwoods and convinced them that the owlet was better off in his new nest, and promptly secured the site with Caution tape and a warning sign to leave the little guy alone, and NOT post on social media. Humans were as much a threat to Fuzzball as his natural predators.
While pleased with the decision to leave Fuzzball in the woods, I also knew it would enhance our home life. Not only are they Rich’s owls, they are Rich’s owlets. My only role may have been iPhone photographer, but I couldn’t help but feel invested in these birds. Rich’s wellbeing and mine was secured as long as this experiment went well.
A few days later, Rich installed his trail-cam opposite Fuzzball. He was richly rewarded when he caught a nighttime feeding on video! Fuzzball sat upright, seemingly looking up in the direction of home. Soon Mom flew onto the chair seat alongside Fuzzball and immediately began tearing up bits of food which he rapidly devoured. It was working!
Rich still lives day by day, checking on Fuzzball morning, noon and evening, and spying on him with the webcam at night. I get detailed reports. Fuzzball’s rescue is our newest entertainment.
OMG – I love love love this story! Way to go Owl Guy! I’ll look forward to an update.
Such a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing and huge thanks to Owl Guy for all his efforts to care for the fuzzball and family in the best way (natural way) possible. We have a fondness for our neighborhood owls and birds of prey so it’s heartwarming to hear others do, too.
That’s a great story. Thanks to Rich for rescuing the owlet!