ACADIA NATIONAL PARK, Maine — Sometimes, instead of using a human-size litter to carry an injured visitor out of the park, a basket or even a small cooler will suffice.
Rangers put both to use this past weekend in a rescue mission, but it wasn’t a hiker they were helping out. It was a baby great horned owl that was found on the ground Saturday by some park visitors.
With the help of Ann Rivers, director of Acadia Wildlife Foundation, park rangers went to the site and retrieved the owl, which had fallen out of a nest and dropped about 20 feet onto a bed of moss. Rangers declined to say where the owl was found in order to prevent people from trying to find the owl’s nest.
Rivers kept the owl overnight at the foundation and, on Sunday, returned to the nest site with rangers as they placed a basket next to the nest.
“The nest didn’t look too sturdy,” Ranger Richard Rechholtz said Monday morning. “It looks like it might have been damaged by the wind.”
A ranger was hoisted up to the nest site on Sunday in a bucket truck and, after placing the pine-needle-lined basket in the tree, the owl chick was lifted up to the basket in a small blue cooler and then placed by the ranger in the basket.
But the bird did not like the basket, apparently. Officials went back to the nest site Monday morning and again found the baby owl on the ground. The parents were nowhere to be seen.
Rivers said Monday that she thinks the owl parents are young and inexperienced. The place where they built the nest is heavily visited in the warmer months and is near a busy road, she said.
“The place they chose to have a nest is awful,” Rivers said. “There’s no sign of [the parents].”
Owls normally are highly protective of their nesting sites, she added, and in this case the parents were facing prospects of constantly defending the site from visitors they would have perceived as intruders.
Rivers speculated that the baby owl fell out of the nest because it hadn’t been fed and became agitated. She said she does not think the parents abandoned the baby, which raptors almost never do, but that they just don’t know how to properly care for it.
“Most animals need their parents for a lot of reasons,” she said. “Birds are like the rest of us. They get experience with age.”
Rechholtz added that the baby owl appears to be in good health. On Saturday night, while being kept at the foundation in the Bar Harbor village of Town Hill, the baby owl ate three mice, he said.
Rivers said the plan is to return the owl to the wild, so the foundation is trying to minimize how often it is handled by humans.
She said she plans to take the bird to Avian Haven in Freedom, which will look for another pair of nesting great horned owls. Officials there might be able to put the baby in the nest and have the parents raise it as if it were their own, she said.
“That’s what we’re going to try to do,” Rivers said.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.