Marilyn Schoneman held the baby owl lightly but securely, well away from her body.
Not that she had an aversion to the two- to three-week-old great horned owl. Rather, it was for the benefit of a photographer on hand for this festive occasion.
No, if Schoneman had it her way, she probably would have held the fluffy little ball of feathers close. A celebratory hug. But not a goodbye.
After a three-day saga, the baby owl — an owlet — was returned to its nest and its mother and sibling Tuesday afternoon in about a 35-foot pine tree in the Schonemans’ yard on Sunrise Island in Crosslake.
Schoneman’s husband, Ron, had found the owlet Sunday at the base of the tree. But the Schonemans and the owls have a bit of a history.
“It started back this winter,” Marilyn Schoneman recalled. “My husband and I would lie in bed at night and hear the hooting of an owl. Then one day we saw it (the mother owl) fly into our tree. It was sitting on the nest and we wondered if it would have babies. So a couple weeks ago we put a telescope up so we could watch it. And about a week ago, we saw the babies for the first time. We saw their little heads popping up.”
Then, Sunday morning, Schoneman looked out the window and “saw something white and fluffy in the yard.”
“I was hoping it wasn’t one of the babies,” she said. “But sure enough, it was on the ground.”
Schoneman wasn’t sure how the owlet fell out of the nest. Nor was she sure what to do next.
“We proceeded to try to find out who could help us. We called the veterinary hospital in Crosslake and they said the one in Garrison is the one that has the raptors center. But no one answered so we called the DNR. We were concerned about our baby.
“Dr. Deb (Eskedahl of the Garrison Animal Hospital) called back and said to bring it over. So Sunday morning, Ron put it in a box and took it over to her to see what they could do about putting it back in the nest.”
But on Monday, the mother owl took off, and Schoneman was concerned she wasn’t coming back.
“Momma left, and left the one baby there. We were really concerned then,” she said. “The poor baby. Was it going to die? But at about (6 p.m.) we heard the crows. That usually means the owls are around. They (the crows) go bonkers. And I looked up and she was back in the nest.
“We were going to take the second baby to the (animal hospital), but since momma was back, we were able to do the opposite and bring the baby back (to the nest). So we did that.”
Eskedahl called Mike Schwarze of Mike’s Tree Company in Brainerd, and Schwarze, Marilyn Schoneman and Becky Miller and Jim Lease of the Wild and Free Wildlife Rehabilitation Program in Garrison, which works closely with the animal hospital, gathered at the Schonemans’ towering pine early Tuesday afternoon. There, Schoneman got to hold the owlet that, along with the sibling and mother, had become like a part of the family.
“My husband called four times yesterday (Monday, from the Twin Cities, where the couple also has a home). He just hated leaving with momma gone. When she came back he was so relieved.”
Tuesday morning, the hungry owlet got breakfast — three mice — and was transported from Garrison to Sunrise Island. After posing for a few photos, the owlet was placed in an ice cream bucket that Schwarze toted up a ladder to the nest, where the chick was placed with its brother or sister — Schoneman said it was too early to tell the sex of the owlets. The mother had left the nest just beforehand, but watched closely from a nearby tree, Schoneman said, and returned soon after.
“I’ve dealt with cats and all sorts of stuff, but never an owl,” Schwarze said. “It was fun — definitely a new experience. We just used caution when we put it in the nest. We were showed how to hold it and we kept an eye out for the adults. It was interesting.”
Late Tuesday afternoon, after things had settled down, Schoneman was still keeping an eye on the owl and her owlets.
“Right now she is sitting on them because I can’t see any of them,” she said, laughing.
“It’s been a fun time,” she added of the experience. “I certainly enjoyed seeing the baby so close up. I think we bonded real well.”