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Barn Owls in raptor mue 052811 KM (11) Animal intake at the PAWS Wildlife Center increased sharply in May as a wide
variety of orphaned birds and mammals came through our doors. Among the orphans
received were six young Barn Owls. Five of the owlets were sent to us from east
of the Cascades after they were anonymously left in a box on the doorstep of the
Quincy Animal Shelter. The sixth owlet was found in Maple Valley and came to
PAWS after they were dropped off at the Seattle Animal Shelter. Other than a
little dehydration, all 6 owlets were all in decent shape on arrival.
Over the past few weeks the Barn Owls have been eating and growing, shedding
their white, downy feathers for more adult looking flight, tail and body
feathers. All six have been sharing a large outdoor aviary and have become
capable flyers. When caretakers enter the cage, the owls tend to huddle
together and put on elaborate displays of "mantling" and "toe dusting."
Mantling is a display in which the birds spread their wings, puff out their body
feathers and spread their tail in an attempt to look larger than they really
are. Toe dusting is often done in conjuction with mantling, and it involves the
owls dropping their heads toward the ground and swishing them back and forth

Barn Owls in raptor mue 052811 KM (20) 

The combined activities are meant to deter a potential predator from coming any closer, and the impressive wing spread combined with the bizarre movements really can be intimidating.  The effect is amplified when several owls are doing it together.  I took some video recently when I entered the cage to check on the birds, and in it you can see the rhythmic movement and rapid head sweeping of toe dusting behvior.  By the end of June all of these Barn Owls should be ready to return to their home in the wild.



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Wow, what an eerie, beautiful dance. I think the owls end up deterring prey simply by hypnotizing them!

Is that one little dude on the left OK? he doesn't look too scary.

Beautiful family!. Thank you, PAWS, for your relentless compassionate work.

I am sharing this heartwarming story in my conservation blog (accessed through my name below).

Kind regards.

I watched the video and was also concerned about the owl second from the left. It was not acting like the others, just shaking. Is this bird not feeling as well as the others? Any update on its condition?

All of the owls are healthy and doing well. They are all individuals though, so some variation in behavior is to be expected. For instance, there were two other owls huddled with these four before we entered the cage. As soon as we opened the door, those two owls flew to a more distant perch. The remaining four stood firm and started displaying. The second from the left seemed to be trying to decide between a full on display and sitting still so as not to be singled out. He settled for closing his eyes half-way and gently swaying as you see in the video.

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