A mousey way to start the day

Columnist Nicole Lishewski sets her alarm to feed owlets at the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter.

Nicole Lischewski                                Wildlife Diaries

Nicole Lischewski Wildlife Diaries

I wonder how many other people are out there who set their alarm to dismember a dead mouse. It’s not the most pleasant task to wake up for; mouse guts have a peculiar smell, and the soft yielding of small bones, fur and flesh to the snipping of my scissors has a certain creepiness to it.

Mouse dissection completed, I lift the three owlets into a clear plastic box lined with paper towel. These little orphans came to Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter when the tree that housed their nest was cut down. The concerned property owner, who hadn’t realized owls were raising their young ones in the tree, brought the babies in. At that point, they were just a few days old: only one had open eyes.

They are now roughly the size of a tennis ball. A very fluffy tennis ball, because their dark orange and grey feathers are coming in at a very fast rate. Gone is the homely, stubbly look that reminded me of bits of dryer lint stuck to ping pong balls with a glue gun. All three focus their yellow eyes on me now in anticipation of breakfast, the broad beaks like a good-morning smile.

Breakfast is less mouse than it used to be: the owlets were gaining weight too fast, NLWS’s co-founder Angelika Langen noticed. We volunteers have been too well-meaning when feeding them, unwittingly illustrating why lay people shouldn’t raise orphaned wildlife but drop the animal off at a rehab shelter. Instead of prodding each owlet into grabbing a piece of mouse, we should just be offering it to the little birds briefly. A hungry owlet will open wide and try to grab the piece, while disinterest and a closed beak mean the bird is full.

Sticking with the new feeding routine, I make the rounds between the three beaks with bits of guts, more legs, and pieces of head, and as the mouse parts dwindle, so does the interest of the owlets in having more. The yellow stare leaves my face, they begin closing their eyes and huddle up to each other. The biggest owlet clings to my finger while flapping her wings furiously as I transfer her from the feeding box to the cage. Her siblings follow suit, and it’s time to clean up my mouse butchering gear. It’s a weird way to start the day, but it’s hard to beat.

 

Saw whet owlets having their breakfast of mice.                                NLWS photo

Saw whet owlets having their breakfast of mice. NLWS photo