Southern boobook owl latest rescue success for Queanbeyan Wildcare

Southern boobook owl latest rescue success for Queanbeyan Wildcare

Caught without shelter, Boo was under attack from other birds near Michelago before being rescued and taken into care. Finding his eye swollen and almost closed, Wildcare volunteer Maryanne Gates knew if this southern boobook owl did not heal completely, he would be euthanised.

She cared for Boo for a fortnight. Having cared for these owls previously, Ms Gates was wary of Boo. "The boobook I had before was ferocious, it didn't want a bar of me, the only way I could feed it, some birds are so stressed in care, you have to wrap them in a towel and force feed them, otherwise they will die of starvation."

Boo was more trusting. "It would happily pick bits of steak from out of my fingers. Its eyes would light up when it saw me coming, so it adapted quite well." Nonetheless Ms Gates, a wildlife carer for 18 years, first in the ACT and now in Queanbeyan, knew healthy eyes were crucial for the night-time hunter of mice, bats, frogs and insects.

National Parks and Wildlife Service, which licenses Wildcare, stipulates any animal not fully recovered cannot be released back into the bush and must be euthanised.

"You would end up with hundreds of [birds] and all our aviaries would be clogged up with birds that could not be released, and we would not have space for the ones that can be released," Ms Gates said.


If caught in the daylight, other birds hate owls and attack them, which happened to Boo.

"They just sit there stunned when they are in the daylight, they don't seem to know what to do. It was easy for someone to pick him up, they brought him in," Ms Gates said. "We were not sure how the eye would go, it was sort of swollen shut at the time, but it did come good. "

Boo was spoiled with steak and a mix produced for raising insect-eating birds which had the right nutrients and calcium. Returning to Michelago, Ms Gates took Boo out of his cage, expecting him to fly off into the night.

"It sat on my arm for a good 10 to 15 minutes before it felt comfortable to fly off. I did wonder for a moment whether it could fly. Maybe I did not have the exact spot it had come from and it was just checking to make sure there was nothing around to attack it," she said.

Standing nearby, the family who had found Boo grew nervous, asking: "Can it fly? Why is it sitting on your arm? You sure it can fly, it doesn't seem to be able to fly?"

"When it did fly off into the trees, the lady gave me a big hug and was obviously thrilled to bits, that this thing found on their property was able to be released," Ms Gates said.

Wildcare needs more volunteers to raise baby birds in spring. "They need feeding constantly throughout the day, the good thing is they sleep at night, unlike furry creatures who need to be fed day and night," Ms Gates said.

Baby magpies are most common, followed by pee wees. Crested pigeons don't make good nests and their chicks come into care, and rosellas which have nested in roof spaces or guttering. Wood duck and Pacific black duck ducklings are regulars too.

"The parents get scared away by traffic or dogs, the ducklings will get left behind. We had a tree chopped down last week at Googong and a galah had laid eggs in the hollows and there were a couple of eggs and a couple of chicks," Ms Gates said.

John Thistleton is a reporter for The Canberra Times.

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