On May 29, after high winds destroyed a 120-foot-long barn in McIntosh belonging to Tabitha Chavez, she said her son Carson Dismuke came to the rescue of five owlets nested inside.
“The barn owls nest in the barn every year,” Chavez said. She said when it happened “the mom flew away” but continued to return to the nest until the wreckage was removed from the public road where it came to rest.
Carson explained, “Occasionally we would go out there and see the parents during the day. When the barn blew down, we went out there and at first, we didn’t see them until we started hearing a weird noise, a hissing noise from the babies. I thought it was a mom trying to protect them but there was no mom in there.”
The 10-year-old, who is a student at South Mountain Elementary in Edgewood, said he expected to find two or three owlets, but after removing a plywood panel to get to them, he discovered there were five.
He said he knew what to do next because his fourth-grade class was part of a special program at his school called Living with the Landscape taught by Hawks Aloft Inc. a statewide non-profit authorized by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to rescue raptors. They also conduct avian research.
Carson said he gathered the baby birds up carefully, put them in a box lined with towels, called Hawks Aloft and spoke with director Gail Garber.
Garber said she contacted Evelyn McGarry, a volunteer in Edgewood, who arrived at Carson’s home within an hour and assessed the owlets for injuries.
McGarry said if birds are found injured, they are taken to special veterinarians for medical care. In this instance, finding them uninjured, the next step was to find them a home with a foster mother barn owl, she said.
Peralta resident and raptor rescuer Chellye Porter had a female barn owl that could not be returned to the wild, so the owlets were going there.
“[McGarry] came and dropped off a box of hissing barn owls at my office and a bag full of mice. They have to eat every four hours,” Porter said.
Before the owlets arrived at Porter’s, an owl from Tularosa, who was there healing from a pelvic fracture, had to go to another rehab facility for physical therapy, making room for the babies.
Porter said they didn’t know at first if the female would nurture the displaced owlets, but she quickly took them on as her own.
Two of the owlets are smaller than the others so they have been temporarily separated from their siblings until they gain some size and can compete for food, according to Porter.
She said, “My goal was to get them self-feeding where I could just put the food in front of them. They’re doing better with that now.”
Porter said when the owlets are older and are ready to be released in the wild, they will most likely go back to Chavez’s land.
Chavez said they will rebuild the barn and build owl boxes where owls can nest. She said Hawks Aloft provided plans for constructing the boxes. “When it comes to bird rehab, we always say it takes a village,” Porter said.
Wind farm developers, Avangrid Renewables, provided a grant to Hawks Aloft which funded its Living with the Landscape educational program at South Mountain elementary.
Amy Parsons, operations wildlife compliance manager for Avangrid, said they develop relationships with rehabilitation organizations to be able to help birds that may be injured at their facilities.
“Carson had called because he went through this program,” Parsons said. “It was real exciting for everybody; it was verification that these efforts, working with Hawks Aloft, and community involvement, and education actually work.”
Avangrid developed the El Cabo wind farm and is planning the La Joya wind farm project in southern Torrance County.
If one finds an injured raptor (owls, hawks or eagles), roadrunner or corvid (ravens, jays and crows) Hawks Aloft asks that you contact their raptor rescue at 505-999-7740.