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
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.