Rare Owl Species Finds a New Home at Wildlife Discovery Center's Savanna

Have a question for Rob? Ask our wildlife expert.


As you will see from this month’s video, it showed a different side of the Wildlife Discovery Center.

Although we are well known for our world-class exhibits, award-winning camps and programs, our field research and conservation initiatives, and the many outreach programs that we do, many people don’t know we assist with many wildlife rescues in the area. 

During the summer, most of our calls involve taking in badly injured turtles (primarily common snapping turtles and painted turtles) hit by cars and trucks as they cross busy roads. These turtles are typically going to their nesting grounds to lay their eggs.

We had a number of successful releases this past summer and currently have several convalescing turtles in our outdoor pond that will be ready for release next summer.

Recently, however, we had one of our most spectacular releases in our history:  a Short Eared Owl! 

Once common in this part of Illinois, the Short Eared Owl is now a very rare sight and is now threatened in Illinois. The primary causes are habitat destruction and winter recreational activities; primarily snowmobiling. These are one of the few owls that nest on the ground so any recreational activity that impedes on that is a threat to this beautiful owl.

Thankfully, there are some common sense approaches toward conservation being undertaken. For example, at the Rollins Savanna where this species lives year round, snow mobile routes have been re-routed to provide recreational opportunities to people while also giving the owls a chance to find niche habitat to hunt, nest and find refuge.

These are owls of the grasslands, and they will quietly soar above the grass looking for small prey such as voles (their primary diet).

Linda Breuer of Barnswallow, a Wild Bird Concern that specializes in the rehabilitation of birds of prey, contacted us to see if we might be interested in letting this owl go on our property since it is on a beautiful grassland savanna ecosystem.

Former resident and graduate Kent Kimball found the bird on his property near unincorporated Libertyville. Although the cause of the bird’s injury is still a mystery, it was unable to fly and Kent gently scooped up the owl and took it to Breuer’s facility in Wauconda.

It is surmised that the owl flew into a window or was struck by an object but thankfully, no permanent injuries were found. It may have also been a victim of rodenticide poisoning and was on the tail end of a bad episode. Within a week or two, this special owl was ready to be released.

It passed its flight test in a large outdoor flight cage in addition to being able to hunt for live prey. So the big day came on a mild, cloudy day. No sooner did we open the door on the kennel the bird was transported in, that the owl shot out and quietly flew to its new freedom.

It was an amazing sight to see such a spectacular species glide so effortlessly above the grassland and then just like that, disappeared into the Big Bluestem.  I can only hope this owl finds this place a suitable home….it should….there’s no shortage of voles out here!

We’ve had a number of questions coming in, but none more important than this one:

From an Anonymous business owner in the Lake Forest area:

  • “We get a lot of rodents coming into our buildings in addition to tearing up our nice landscape. I think they are voles, but I’m not sure. We were told that some rodenticides are safe because the birds of prey always pick out the stomach and intestines prior to consumption. Is that true and are there better alternatives?”

Let me just say this publicly: There are no such thing as safe rodenticides!

If the poison is toxic enough to kill a mouse, its toxic enough to kill a bird of prey or any animal that ingests the poisoned prey. Voles are nature’s popcorn and when a hawk or owl catches one, they are usually devouring it whole which includes the organs that contain the toxins.

Over the past several months we have seen many poisoned birds of prey (mostly Red Tailed Hawks and Great Horned Owls) die a grizzly death from ingesting rodents who ingested rodenticide. It is one of the most horrific deaths an animal can experience: they suffer from intense internal hemorrhaging and pain, they become very disoriented which causes intense stress on a wild animal, and then they bleed out of every orifice in their body. This process can take days to weeks and to see an animal suffer like this, it makes me wonder why rodenticides are even legal to sell. 

Better options are snap traps, live traps, and encouraging predators like snakes, fox, coyote, and raptors to be around your property. Constructing bird houses specific for owls, leaving up “snags” (as long as it doesn’t pose human safety concerns), and creating brush piles on the perimeter of your property are various ways to invite predators.

The opposite end of the spectrum is to completely clear out your property of any opportunity to hide but to us, that’s robbing you of the chance to enjoy observing nature. 

Keep the questions coming!

For more information about the WDC, visit www.wildlifediscoverycenter.com.

If you have other questions, contact me directly at carmichr@cityoflakeforest.com.

See you next month!


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »