Campus life's a hoot for baby owls
Vets at a US university are raising nine tiny great horned owls after the birds' nests were destroyed.
Baby horned owls are rarely seen by the public because adult owls protect them aggressively, making it difficult to get near a nest.
The babies, five from one nest and four from another, are being hand-fed at Washington State University until they are strong enough to eat on their own.
The first four were brought to the university on April 13 at about a week old. Just four days later, the second group arrived at only a few days old.
"We've had great horned babies before, but in 10 years, I've never had any this young," said Dr Nickol Finch, who oversees the school's Raptor Rehabilitation Centre. "Pretty much all they're doing is eating and sleeping."
The palm-sized birds are living at WSU's Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where they are being fed cut-up mice soaked in water.
Four of the baby owls survived a fall to the ground near Colton, after someone unknowingly cut down a tree where they were nesting, Dr Finch said. The other five were brought to a vet after their nest was destroyed inside a chimney during a home conversion.
"With no nest to be returned to, babies on the ground are vulnerable," Dr Finch said. "At this age, they would probably not survive if left on the ground. The parents will still try to protect them and feed them if they are on the ground, but keeping them warm is another story."
The owls must be fed three times a day, and if they survive will stand 2ft with a 4ft wingspan. Great horned owls are fierce-looking predators with yellow eyes and tufts resembling pointy ears. They hunt rodents, rabbits, snakes and skunks.
People working with the baby owls are instructed not to talk when feeding them. "It's important that the owls don't imprint on humans," said Dr Finch, who plans to release the baby owls this summer. "The more independent they are, the better."