On March 30, our director of maintenance, Rich Bass, received a call from a Madera clubhouse employee that there was an owlet (baby owl) on the ground below its nest in the tree outside the clubhouse door. Rich, who has a significant background in raptor rescue, went over to take a look. After calling several organizations, including the Arizona Game & Fish Department, he was told to either leave it on the ground or put it back in the nest. “Putting it back in the nest was not an option, as the nest was falling apart and would not support it,” Rich says. “Leaving it on the ground would have been certain death.” Rich decided to rescue the baby owl and took it home to start building a habitat for it to be raised and trained to hunt and be released in the wild at the appropriate time. Fast forward a day or so, the little guy’s sibling ended up on the ground and, again, Rich, already committed to being an “Owl Daddy,” collected it and reunited the two.
Rich grew up on a farm in Lancaster County, Pa., where a pair of great horned owls had nested in the trees behind their barn. “One summer, a few of the owlets fell from the nest during a strong storm, and I found them,” Rich says. He contacted a rescue expert in a nearby town, and she came out to survey the situation. She instructed Rich on how to get them back in the nest without getting injured by the parent owls. “I geared up with a heavy jacket, motorcycle helmet, and heavy leather gloves and was able to return the babies, under constant attack by the parents.” he says. He goes on to say that during his conversation with the expert, he found that she and her husband founded the Lancaster County Raptor Rescue and Rehab Center in Ephrata, Pa. “I was immediately hooked,” he says. From that day until he left to serve in the United States Marine Corps, he “spent every chance I could helping her and learning from her.” Rich assisted in rescuing many species of raptors, including bald eagles, barn owls, great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, and even an osprey. “Since my first encounter with the owls on our farm, I have always admired and respected these creatures,” he says. Rich became certified in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware to do this type of rescue.
In talking with Rich, he indicated a few key requirements to keep the owlets alive out of the nest.
* They are predators and need to eat meat. They require “whole food.” Supplementing their diets with red meat like beef cubes is accepted.
* They need a safe environment to live. Being babies and unable to defend themselves from predation requires security from other raptors, predators, and scavengers that will eat them given the chance.
* Understanding that these creatures are not pets and need to be returned to the wild. Human interaction can be dangerous to raptors when they are young. Too much interaction from humans can cause the bird to imprint on a person. Imprinting means that they see you as their parent and come to depend on you for everything, even later in life. This could be a death sentence to a raptor.
Rich explaines the setting for his new charges. “The location that I have for the owls is at my residence. I have five acres in Elephant Head, Ariz. The first habitat was inside a portion of my horse stable. I am currently remodeling two of my stables to create a habitat that is 24 feet wide, 36 feet long, and 20 feet high.” He continues, “I will include a tree that will serve as a hunting perch/nest box about 17 feet from the ground, all constructed from 2 1/4-inch tube steel welded and wrapped with 2-inch by 4-inch welded wire. As of right now, the frame is complete and ready for wire. There will be a double entry in order to keep the birds and myself safe as they grow and become the predators that they are. A feeding station will be constructed with mesquite branches for them to take their prey. I hired a local welder named Saul Alvarez who has done all of the work up to this point.” He continues, “I had originally planned to do all of this myself, then the accident happened.”
The accident Rich refered to happened on May 14 on his way home from work. His motorcycle was hit by a car, resulting in more than six broken vertebrae in his lumbar. He says that his wife was able to work from home and was there when he needed assistance, which he says “was for just about everything.” She took over the feeding and kept things tidy in the habitat. After a few weeks, Rich, using a walker, was able to get out of bed and take over the care and feeding of the growing owls.
Rich is still waiting for clearance to return to work after two months of recovery from his injuries. Even on his reduced income, he will have invested approximately $4,500 plus another $400 per month to feed them, all out of his pocket.
The report on the current status of this rescue is that both owls are showing strong predatory instinct and behavior. They are learning the necessary hunting skills for their survival in the wild. Rich says, “I hope to have them ready by this fall to release them into the Santa Rita Mountains.”
He concludes, “I believe that if I did not rescue these birds, they would have been killed by another predator their first night on the ground. I have a renewed desire to continue rescuing raptors in our area. Once I am back on my feet, I will begin the process of getting my license and certification in Arizona. This investment will benefit raptors for years to come as long as I am able to continue taking care of them. They are fascinating creatures with amazing abilities. These two little ones deserved a chance to grow and live the way a great horned owl should, wild and free.”
At the suggestion of several residents of Quail Creek, myself included and other POA board members, Rich has set up a GoFundMe account with a goal of $4,500 to help recover some much-needed funds spent during his incapacitation and to complete the habitat for these two babies and many more in the future. If you would like to assist Rich or for more information, you can contact him directly at [email protected]. And to contribute, the link to his GoFundMe account is gofund.me/95212e8a.