AFTER months of careful rehabilitation, four young spotted eagle owls will soon be spreading their wings when they are released back into the wild.
In October last year, The Herald reported how the Urban Raptor Project’s Arnold Slabbert rescued four owl chicks from two different nests at the Buffelsfontein Retirement Village.
At the time of their rescue they were between three and four weeks old.
Now they are almost fully grown and in the process of learning to hunt and care for themselves.
“The key is to release them before winter. Rodents usually breed in the summer and are now in abundance, leaving more than enough food for the young owls,” Slabbert said.
“As the rodents’ numbers decrease the birds will hone their hunting skills as rodents become smarter and less abundant.”
Over the last few weeks the owls were kept in a purpose-built cage at Slabbert’s house.
The cage houses 13 spotted eagle owls all in different stages of rehabilitation after being injured or orphaned.
The four Slabbert rescued in October are the oldest of the bunch and will be released first.
Slabbert is also building two more cages, either to house more owls or to assist in the rehabilitation of other predatory birds.
“From my house, the birds are taken to our hack station at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s nature reserve.
This is a type of shelter where they can come and go freely and acclimatise to a new habitat, until they are ready to leave permanently and find their own nesting place.
“The whole aim of the rehabilitation process is for the owls to return to the wild. I love rescuing these birds and watching them grow, but there is no greater feeling than to watch a bird I have spent so much time with fly off to take care of itself,” Slabbert said.
– Riaan Marais