On April 9, I received an email from the specialty company I buy bird seed from: Wild Birds Unlimited, Inc., in Wenatchee, Washington. I got hooked on this company when I lived in Houston and quickly found the local franchise when I moved to eastern Washington.

Screenshot of baby owlets, huddled together
Screenshot of sleeping baby owlets, huddled together after a meal. All screenshots in this post are the copyright of Wild Birds Unlimited and Cornell Lab.

The email told me that the CEO and founder of the company had set up a box nest 30 feet in a tree in his back yard in 2010, and it was currently hosting a family of barred owls: a mama, daddy, and three babies that had recently hatched. He had web cameras trained on this nest, one on the inside and one on the outside, and by clicking on the link in the email, we could watch these amazing birds and babies 24/7!

Well, that was just too irresistible for me. Ever since then, I’ve been checking on the owlets multiple times a day, being fascinated to watch them grow, watch mom feed them (swallowing mice and crayfish whole!), and slowly watch them learn how to flap their wings and hop, and interact with each other. I’ve watched them sleep in a pile like little fuzzy puppies. I’ve posted screenshots on my Facebook page in the hopes that they might captivate my friends’ hearts as well. They are now about a month old and two have recently vacated the nest, to learn to hunt on their own, yet still staying close to home until they are about 10 weeks old.

Screenshot of owlets in the nest, getting bigger
Screenshot of owlets in the nest, getting bigger and personalities emerging.

It’s been particularly interesting to watch the mama, how she initially stayed in the box nest to keep them warm and protect them, and it was dad who came and went delivering food to the four of them. Within a mere 2 weeks, the babies were old enough to be left alone for a few hours at night and mom would go out hunting herself, bringing back rabbits, squirrels, mice, rats, songbirds, crayfish, earthworms, Luna moths, bats—just about anything that said “protein”—and fed it to her babies.

Screenshot of mama owl and one baby owlet at nest entrance
Screenshot of mama owl and Midnight at nest entrance, the first day he ventured out.

Watching them grow in strength and curiosity has been a celebration almost every single day. The first one to hatch was also the strongest (who has been named Midnight), and Midnight was the first to jump to the nest opening to see the outside world. Mom was there to make sure he didn’t fall out! Before I knew it, the middle one, Star, joined him at the opening. Within one day of each other, they would abandon the nest altogether—Midnight by crawling up the tree trunk and Star by flying out—leaving the youngest, Moon, on her own.

Cheering these guys along has been such an expected pleasure and rare joy this spring! Seeing how fast they grow and celebrating their little milestones has given my heart, and I’m sure the thousands who are watching, a real lift and something to look forward to each day.

Screenshot of all three owlets at nest entrance
Finally, all three make it to the entrance.

With all the awful things happening in the world right now, to have this bright spot every day has offered a real respite.

So it was a complete gut-punch when a friend alerted me to an article printed in The New York Times on April 29, entitled They Shoot Owls in California, Don’t They?

Yes, the federal government is proposing, as we speak, to eradicate hundreds of thousands of barred owls to bring back the California spotted owl from extinction. The very species of barred owl that we have been cheering along for the past month in these web cam videos has been determined to be too successful, too plentiful, and eating too much of the food the spotted owl depends on in California. So our government plans to systematically slaughter up to a half-million of them over the next 30 years, to give the spotted owl half a chance at survival.

Last owlet flaps its wings, getting ready for the day he'll leave
With two of her siblings now gone, Moon tests out her wings for her own day of departure.

I won’t summarize the article for you. Please read it for yourself, and see if you agree with me and the rest of the outraged public (judging from the comments section at the end), that sacrificing one innocent species of owl to save another species of owl from extinction, is one of the worst ideas the government can come up with and still call it a “conservation effort.” This is our tax dollars at work.

A month ago, a letter was written to our Secretary of the Interior, The Honorable Deborah Haaland, and signed by 75 animal welfare and wildlife protection organizations, asking her to get the government to stand down on this plan. A link to that letter is also there in The New York Times article, so you can read it.

When I lived in Rockport, Texas, I had the privilege of living near two very different, yet very successful, wildlife management programs that brought back two species from extinction: the whooping crane and the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. Both are federal government programs, yet neither one sacrificed nor slaughtered another species to bring about that result.

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, which I visited many times as it was just outside Rockport, is a wildlife preserve for the last remaining wild population of whooping cranes in North America. The whooping cranes migrate annually between the Texas Gulf Coast and Wood Buffalo National Park in Alberta, Canada. The conservation efforts and the cooperation between our two nations brought these birds back from the brink of extinction (their numbers were down to 15 in 1941); now they are still listed as endangered but are protected and thriving, with numbers in the hundreds. They are impressive, jaw-dropping birds, up to 5 feet tall; monogamous, with mom and dad tending to the nests. If you are ever down there in the winter, take a boat tour and see for yourself.

In Port Aransas, up the west coast from Rockport, we had the Sea Turtle Program run by the National Park Service at Padre Island National Seashore. Every season Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, the smallest of the sea turtles, come ashore to lay their eggs on south Texas beaches. Because they are susceptible to being eaten by predators or being stolen by poachers (humans), the eggs are collected and incubated in the hatchery there. Releases of the baby sea turtles is an exciting event that is attended by thousands of people several times every summer; photos of the babies on the beach as they make their way to the water line can be seen on their website. When cold snaps occur in the winter or early spring, the cold-stunned adult and juvenile turtles are rescued and warmed in their facility until it is safe to release them again. This highly successful program has been run by the same person, Dr. Donna Shaver, for more than 30 years and has won international awards.

I describe these programs because in neither case do they do harm to other species to achieve such stunning results; they have just found a way to protect habitat, to give existing species a helping hand, and to garner the support of legions of volunteers who also care about animal welfare. Why the federal government cannot think outside the box, using these programs as a model for the California spotted owl, instead of simply “we must kill their competitor,” is unfathomable.

I know what I’m going to do. I’m also going to write The Honorable Deborah Haaland a letter. I’m going to remind her of these other very successful federal programs, and ask her to take a pause. To go back to the drawing board and try again. Maybe check out the owl-cam on the Wild Birds Unlimited website.

Won’t you join me? This is her address:

The Honorable Deborah Haaland
Secretary of the Interior
1849 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20240

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2 Responses

    1. Well that’s a twist I hadn’t thought of! Now that the public is more and more aware of AI, they are spotting it everywhere…maybe ask them that, when you write your letter?! Thanks for commenting, Norm.

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