Thursday, Feb. 28 started like a typical morning on the golf course. However, that changed when we stumbled across this guy.
It seemed the storms that passed through the area the night before evicted this little Great Horned Owlet from his nest. Ever the watchful eye, both adult parents were visible in the canopies of nearby trees and were quite vocal about their little one being stuck on the ground.
I reached out to Cornell University Lab of Ornithology for some guidance and left a message for the person in charge of their NestWatch program, which uses volunteers nationwide to keep track of nesting habits of various birds.
While I was waiting to hear back from them, I called Bryan Beckner. Bryan runs a company named Native Bird Boxes over on the west coast and I was sure he would know exactly the best route for this little owlet. Turns out, the best thing to do was the most obvious. If we couldn’t find the owl’s nest, we needed to build him a new home.
Cornell University returned my call and after sending them a few pictures, they concurred. It was time to learn to build a nest for the little guy.
Apparently, owlets of this age, approximately five weeks old, are going through a stage referred to as “branching.” This means they venture out of their nest to walk out on the limbs of the tree they are in. They do not have the ability to fly yet and often fall from the tree. The parents will continue to care for the owlet that is now stuck on the ground for the next few weeks as he matures enough to fly back into the protective canopy. Being as this little guy could not fly, and bobcats and coyotes have been spotted on the property, I felt leaving him to fend for himself was a certain death sentence.
So, with the help of a ladder and using an old Easter basket, up a pine tree I went. I secured the basket to the tree using some irrigation wire and deposited my little buddy in his new home. (I like to think he was telling me "thanks" in this picture, but that probably wasn’t the case.) All’s well that ends well they say. Mission Accomplished. Job well done.
An hour or so passed and Assistant Golf Course Superintendent Tony Price stopped by to check on the little guy. Turns out his sibling had been hiding all morning and there were two on the ground!
No problem, get the ladder and this one can go straight up the tree with the other one. Of course that would have been way to easy. Turns out my basket wasn’t big enough for two owlets and when #2 was placed in the nest, #1 jumped out the other side. It was time for a bigger nest.
So with few palm fronds and pine straw and sticks, I set out to build a much more grand nest that would provide the siblings enough room to escape each other and not have them falling to the ground.
Now we were done...the little owlets were off the ground and seemed content in their new home. We just had to cross our fingers that the parents would come back to tend to them that evening. Nature has a way of working things out and, despite that old wive's tale about touching baby birds, the next morning we were greeted by a fully mature Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree near the nest keeping a watchful eye.
Golf courses are far more than just a stand of turf grass that many, incorrectly, believe is over-
fertilized, over-watered, and covered with chemicals that are terrible for the environment. A golf course is a living, breathing micro-ecosystem flush with wildlife. As a turf grass professional, it is my job not only to provide the best golfing conditions as I can, but to also be a good steward of the environment. I thank these little guys for falling out of their nest and letting me contribute to their lives. Fair winds and good luck little guys.
Note: The man-made nest is located on the south side of the cart path just before the bridge on the 15th hole. The early bird gets the worm, they say, so in order to see the whole family together, you’d need to be out there first thing in the morning through the seven o’clock hour.