Into the wild

Zoo returns owls to nature after rehab

BROWNSVILLE — Four barn owls and four great horned owls returned to the wild, thanks to the efforts of veterinary staff at the Gladys Porter Zoo.

The owls were among dozens members of the public brought to the zoo as chicks, “some as fuzzies with white fuzzy feathers all over, and some as fledglings who have fallen out of the nest or otherwise failed their first flight test,” Dr. Thomas deMaar, senior zoo veterinarian, said.

After months of care they were ready to be released Wednesday evening back into the wild.

“The barn owls came to us as a group out of a construction site in Laguna Heights,” deMaar said, adding that the birds traditionally inhabited barns, but with fewer and fewer barns available they look elsewhere for habitat.

“This mother set up shop in Laguna Heights because there was an ample food supply, that is, enough rodents,” he said.

“The zoo has done animal rehabilitation since it opened, right out of the back of the zoo,” deMaar said. “One of the messages is the fledglings should probably be left alone and the mother will come get them. Sometimes we try to put them back because mom can do it better,” he said.

The barn owls were to be released into a rural, open area somewhere east of Indiana Avenue and south of the Port of Brownsville.

The great horned owls came from Edinburg, McAllen and Brownsville. “We made a foster family for them because they were roughly the same age,” deMaar said, adding that great horned owls are more common up north. They were to be released in a wooded area, which they favor, that lies just south of the border wall and is part of a private residence.

“We released them in different places because they’re competitors for the same resources,” deMaar said. “The great horned owl is the only thing that will eat skunks, plus pheasants, rodents and rabbits. Barn owls just eat rodents.”