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Chico State

Lending a Helping Wing

A great horned owl flaps its wings.
Mike Alonzo / Manager of Grounds and Landscape

For months, the campus community has been captivated by a family of great horned owls living on a window awning of the Student Services Center.

On Monday, our feathered friends’ fate took a worrisome turn.

Facilities Management and Services employees found a fully grown owlet in the SSC courtyard, tucked between bushes and the building. It appeared agitated and unable to fly.

The employees quickly realized it was one of two siblings hatched this spring, and, after its sibling flew the nest a day before, it likely wanted to follow suit.

However, the canteloupe-sized bird seemed to not yet understand the power of its wings. After gliding to the courtyard below, it lacked the knowledge and, perhaps, oomph to master another liftoff.

FMS employees Mike Alonzo, Adam Handy, Brian Cross, and Dave Kuzmack promptly set up protective fencing to keep people away and called Jamie Davis-Meyer of Bidwell Wildlife Rehabilitation for help.

A great horned owl flaps its wings and flares its talons while being held with thick leather gloves.
Celeste Hitchman of Bidwell Wildlife Rehabilitation examines the owlet on Monday. Great horned owls are frequently sighted on the Chico State campus.

Her field staff member, Celeste Hitchman, came to physically examine the owl and determined the young male bird had been well cared for by its parents and had no broken bones or other injuries. With some late-night encouragement and a tasty dinner, she predicted it would have another chance to take off. By Tuesday morning, all indications pointed to that successful outcome.

While caring for this week’s wayward owl was an unexpected task, Alonzo said, it was also an incredibly rewarding opportunity to see an awe-inducing creature up close and to play a role helping it thrive.

“We are pretty lucky,” Alonzo said. “This was their home first.”

Chico State is host to a wide variety of wildlife, thanks largely to the riparian area along Big Chico Creek and the trees that make up the University arboretum, Alonzo said. The FMS crews are acutely aware of the campus’ non-human inhabitants and actively look for out them while they work in the early morning hours and in spaces that provide ideal habitat.

Whether for turtles or the occasional otter in Big Chico Creek or hawks nesting in the trees, they work to respect and preserve the environment where those creatures live, Alonzo said. Several years ago, recognizing the presence of owls, they eliminated rodent poison boxes to ensure the predatory birds would not be harmed by inadvertently consuming the toxins.

A fluffy grey owlet and wizened adult great horned owl watch curiously from their nest of twigs atop a window awning.
A family of great horned owls made their home in northeastern corner of the Student Services Center this spring. (Jason Halley / University Photographer)

“We are so fortunate to live on a campus with so many caring humans willing to take time out to assist our winged companions who share our space,” said Adrienne Scott, curator of the Valene L. Smith Museum of Anthropology, who observed the owl’s rescue on Monday.

The Valene L. Smith Museum’s current exhibit is Remarkable Lives: The Intertwined Lives of Birds and Humans, showcasing the many ways people and birds interact. The exhibit is open Mondays through Thursdays from 11 a.m.­–3 p.m. through July 25 in Meriam Library, Room 180.