The Bird Treatment and Learning Center has become a temporary home for five northern hawk-owls.

Avian rehabilitation coordinator Amy Kilshaw said the birds arrived six weeks ago after they were found abandoned outside the village of Ruby. Kilshaw said it’s the first time the nonprofit has ever had baby owls. They were just two weeks old when they arrived.

Kilshaw said as adorable as the young owls are, volunteers and staff at Bird TLC have worked hard to handle them as little as possible.

“We’ve really tried to have them not be used to being around people,” Kilshaw explained. “We don’t want them to associate us with food. We don’t want us to be a positive thing.”

And what they really don’t want, according to Kilshaw, is for the birds to become “imprinted” on people. She said imprinted birds usually can’t be released into the wild.

“Typically when a young bird will open its eyes, it’s going to see its natural parent and that’s what it’s going to hone in on,” Kilshaw said. “But with birds who come into captivity when they are young, you have the possibility that they can become imprinted on people. So they look at us and they start to trust us and they know that’s where they get their food and their safety from and that can obviously really disrupt their natural behavior. It can be very negative for some birds.”

Kilshaw said when the birds first arrived they were handfed by people wearing owl masks. Now, their food is placed in the enclosure through a small door using a tool that resembles long tongs.

Kilshaw said recently the owls have started to “hunt” live mice in their enclosure, which is a good sign they may be nearing a time when they can be released back into the wild. If all goes well, she said, that should happen in mid-August.

Editor’s note: Lauren Maxwell is a board member of the Bird Treatment and Learning Center.

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