The tiny creatures had been abandoned and left to their nest as the wildfire raged closer in the Sierra National Forest in mid-June.
Too young to fly, two newborn Western screech owls could not escape the flames on their own. But no one knew they were there until the tree they were hiding in was felled to form part of the fire control line. The birds tumbled out of their nest onto a roadway, the U.S. Forest Service reported in a July 18 blog entry.
Two firefighters saw them, scooped them up and summoned assistance, which brought Anae Otto, a wildlife biologist for the Sierra National Forest’s Bass Lake Ranger District.
“My heart was racing when I received the report of owls on the ground in the Carstens Fire,” Otto told the forest service after making the 2.5-hour drive to retrieve the birds. “I was concerned because there were no details as to how old they were, how long they had been exposed, etc. I was relieved to find the owlets alive and in fair condition. So much of my daily work deals with habitat protection. It was very rewarding to provide direct assistance to an animal in need.”
Otto estimated they were between two and three weeks old. She wrapped them in a towel and brought them home overnight, the forest service said, then called for reinforcements the next day. That brought in wildlife rehab specialist Terri Williams, a volunteer for the Fresno Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Service.
Now the two owls, dubbed Puff and Fluff, are being cared for until they can fly. At last report they were chowing down daily on 25 crickets, two mice and a chick.
It was a heartwarming moment in a wildfire season fraught with tragedy at the death of 19 firefighters in Arizona in June. (Related: Hero Firefighters Named, Mourned, in Arizona)
The Western screech owl, Megascops kennicottii, is plentiful over the western half of Turtle Island, although, as with their brethren the spotted owl, their habitat has been encroached upon by the barred owl as well as eroded by logging and development. (Related: Pot-Farm Raticide May Be Killing Spotted Owls; Hoopa Tribe Investigates)
Puff and Fluff will grow to be 7½ to 10 inches long, according to information on the species from the Arizona Game and Fish Department. They will weigh between four and seven ounces, and their wingspan will reach 21 inches or so, the department said.
The Carstens fire raged for 10 days between June 16 and June 26, according to CalFire, the website for California fire incidents. It burned 1,708 acres in total, including acreage in the Sierra National Forest.
Read the full story of Puff and Fluff’s rescue and recovery, Life’s a Hoot for Owlets Saved from Wildfire, at the U.S. Forest Service blog.