By Collin Lueck
A pair of Great Horned Owls, rescued in the town of Rock Falls this past spring, were released back into the wild Saturday night near where they had been found.
Erin Toohey and Ana Morales of Raptor Education Group, Inc. (REGI) in Antigo brought the owls back home to be released. Toohey noted that they try to release owls back into the same area they came from. While not particularly social birds, the young owls will take some cues from their parents, who are most likely still in the immediate area, she added.
“Once they hear the other owls they will figure out where to go,” Toohey said.
The owls were found by Sandy and Butch Shearier in April after they fell out of a nest and landed in the Shearier yard on Matthews Road.
Sandy was alerted that something was amiss in her yard by her dogs and some noisy crows.
“I never knew they were there until they were on the ground,” Sandy said.
After finding one of the baby owls, Sandy called the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office for assistance. Lt. Andy VanderWyst responded and captured the bird. Unable to locate the nest in the dark, VanderWyst took the owl and headed for Wild Instincts Rehab in Minocqua. He hadn’t gotten far when Sandy called the sheriff’s office once again to report that she had found a second baby owl in her yard. VanderWyst returned and collected the second owl.
From Wild Instincts, the owls were transferred to REGI, which specializes in birds of prey. The baby owls were put in with an adult male great horned owl, or foster dad, who “taught them how to be owls,” Morales said.
When they arrived at REGI, the babies still had their down feathers and could not have survive on their own in the wild, Morales explained.
After their feather came in, the owls were moved to the flight conditioning area at REGI to practice flying.
Following nearly six months at REGI’s rehabilitation facility in Antigo, the owls were ready to go back into the wild Saturday night. About 20 people – mostly neighbors and relatives of the Sheariers – gathered in a field up the hill from the Shearier home to watch the release. Among those who came to see the owls off, were Lt. VanderWyst and his family.
The owls seemed to be in no hurry to leave the humans who had helped raise them. Toohey and Morales each held an owl, both of whom appeared calm and docile. After getting them turned in the right direction, each owl was released and flew off to take their place at the top of the food chain.
Sandy said she’s glad to have the owls back in the neighborhood. She’s thought about them a lot over the past several months and has checked in with REGI regularly to see how they were doing.
“I called them every couple of weeks,” Sandy said.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office responds to incidents involving wildlife all the time, VanderWyst said. Deer, bear and even eagles are fairly frequent encounters, but this was his first experience with an owl, VanderWyst added.
Toohey said this pair of owls is the last of seven that REGI has returned to the wild this year.
To show her appreciation, Sandy took up a collection the neighborhood and presented it to Toohey and Morales as a donation to REGI Saturday night.
Sandy said she’ll be prepared next spring in case it starts raining baby owls in her backyard again.
reat Horned Owls will nest in the same s
pot each year and they did eventually locate the nest, some 70 feet up in a tree on the Shearier property.