Keeper Diary: Raising Owls

Keeper Diary: Raising Owls

#Taronga Zoo Sydney

Posted on 20th August 2012 by Media Relations

 Grey Fisher , a Senior Keeper at Taronga Zoo is handraising two tiny Sooty Owl chicks, which when older will play a vital role in the QBE Free Flight Bird Show educating Zoo visitors about the wonderful world of birds.

Rearing wildlife is a full-time, 24 hour a day job. Here is Grey's diary of the owlet journey.

Monday 13th August: Picked up the owlets today!  One is 10 days old and the other 8 days, this is the first time that I have hand raised Sooty Owls so I am very excited!  I did my first feeding at 12:00 and they both ate very well.  The older owls left eye is just barely starting to open.

Tuesday 14 August: 12:00am – just woke up to feed the two Sooty Owl chicks. I’m sleepy but they’re cute so it’s worth it! Chopping mice into bite sized bits may not be something that everyone is up for but watching the owlets gulp them down hungrily makes it worthwhile. 

Wednesday 15 August: 5:30am – I’m NOT a morning person!  But my morning routine is taking a bit more time.  Get up, prepare owl food, feed owls, shower, get dressed, walk the dogs, and then finally head off to work.  It’s a good thing these guys are cute! 11:05pm The younger chick refused all food.  It’s been eating well all along so I’m not worried; my guess is that it has a casting ready to be coughed up.

Thursday 16th August: 5:20am HUGE casting produced overnight!  The lil’ guy ate like a champion (12g of food!) so he much be feeling good having gotten all of that out. 11:12pm The older chick had both of it’s eyes open when I began the feed!  They closed soon after but it was nice to get a glimpse of those beautiful brown eyes!

Friday 17th August: 1:06pm The younger chick is right on schedule with its older sibling.  It turned 12 days old today and has started to open its eyes plus it reached the 100 gram weight mark.  The 12 days is exactly when that happened for the other one, it’s nice to see that things are right on track!

Saturday 18th August: 12:55pm Both chicks were preening today for the first time!  Their first feathers are coming in to replace the fluffy down and it is good to see that they are already getting to work on making themselves look good.  They are really starting to look more and more like owls every day.

Sunday 19th August: 6:12pm The older chick hissed at me as it woke up!  I think its vision must be getting clearer and it has finally realized that its mother is an ugly human!  As soon as it heard my voice though it settled right down, I guess I don’t sound as scary as I look….

Monday 20th August: The chicks are 2/3 of the way through the quarantine process and I’ll be able to take them down to the bird show with me by next week.  It will make the midday feed less time consuming plus I’ll be able to spend a lot more time with them!

Tuesday 21st August: Tomorrow I will temporarily hand over responsibility for the chicks to another keeper from the bird show.  This weekend I am participating in a 100k endurance event for charity and although I have considered popping them inside my shirt so that I don’t have to be separated from them I know that they will be well looked after.  At this age they change so much each day that I know that when I get them back they’ll look completely different.

Wednesday 5th September: Both of the owlets are a month old now and the changes in them have been dramatic!  Feathers are beginning to appear through the down, particularly on the wings, and they are starting to stand up for short periods of time.  Yesterday I took them outside for the first time and they were very curious about the new surroundings!  They have even met their first members of the public. We had an elderly woman in a wheelchair attend the 12:00pm Bird Show who was a real bird lover.  I had some time so I decided to take them out and let her be the first Zoo visitor to meet them.  The joy on her face at meeting these little bundles of fluff was worth all of the late nights I had feeding them!


1 month old Sooty Owl

Wednesday 12th of September: We have spots!  That’s a good thing by the way…  I’ve been watching as the feathers have been growing in on the wings of the owlets but today for the first time I noticed that they have grown in far enough to be able to see a few spots on the feathers.  The subspecies name of these owls is “multipunctata” which means many spots so these are just the first hint at what these birds will look like as adults!


Feathers begin to grow through the baby 'fluff'









 Wednesday the 19th of September: The owlets are really starting to figure out their feet!  They are up and about walking around much more often and they are even beginning to grip.  As adults owls feet are their weapons, they have the strength in them to catch and kill their prey and occasionally that prey includes my fingers!  While they still don’t have the strength to do any serious damage, those sharp talons have still made me wince a few times!











Monday the 24th of September: The owlets are officially superstars! Not only have I recently learned that my two little fluff balls are the most popular animals ever featured on Taronga’s Facebook page, but they have now made their show debut…sort of.  After the QBE Free Flight Bird Show this past Sunday I took them out to meet the masses of their adoring fans for the first time.  I was a bit worried that it might be a bit much for them so I was prepared to whisk them away to safety at any moment.  However I needn’t have worried.  They charmed everyone, young and old alike and took it all in their stride.  Many of the guests even vowed to come back to see them once they are flying in the show!








Sunday the 30th of September: Now that the owlets are getting the feel for their owl celebrity status they are starting to rub elbows with the stars.  Today they got to meet Pink!  The Zoo often receives celebrity guests but up until now only one has ever come to meet any of our birds at the QBE Free Flight Bird Show.  So when I heard that we were having a “VIP” guest I was quick to offer to allow them to meet my little stars.  The owlets were of course a hit but I’m not sure that Pink quite realized the level of celebrity that she was in the presence of. 

Now that little Dragon and Phoenix (those are the owls’ names by the way) have such a strong presence on Taronga’s web and Facebook pages we regularly have people asking for them after the show.  Unfortunately for their adoring public they aren’t always available for a guest starring role at the end of the show but I take them out as often as I can.  I guess that was one of the reasons that they got on with Pink so well, they can all relate to the pressures of fame. 

Thursday the 4th of October: The owlets are two months old now and nearly ready to leave the nest, the changes in their appearance as well as their personalities have been dramatic.  Their facial disks are formed now and they are rapidly moulting out their down feathers as their adult ones grow in.  Every time they flap their wings it is like a grey snow storm!  The down helped to keep them warm when they were young but it isn’t very aerodynamic so it has to go before full flying can take place.  And that flying won’t be too far away, they’ve begun making some pretty impressive leaps that have carried them distances of up to 60 centimetres!  As much as it is exciting seeing them change and grow, it is bittersweet because I know my time as “Papa” owl is nearing its end.









Tuesday the 9th of October: We’re flying! OK, so maybe it was more of a controlled fall but you have to start somewhere.  All that flapping and jumping around has been doing the job of building up the muscles and yesterday Phoenix made her first attempt at flying.  It was just lucky that we happened to have a camera on standby!  She even managed to stick the landing which was also pretty impressive.  This one little flight is just the beginning of what I am sure will be a great career for her as a Sooty Owl ambassador in the QBE Free-Flight Bird Show!