Baby great horned owl that fell from Sonoma tree hoisted back to nest

Spellbound visitors to the Sonoma town plaza, and a family of owls, watch as a young owl not yet able to fly is hoisted back up to where it belongs.|

Graced with huge, yellow eyes, gorgeous if immature plumage and two sets of talons no man nor beast would care to mess with, the baby great horned owl that stirred awe Thursday on the Sonoma Plaza was in need of a boost.

The sharp-beaked ball of fluff, more than a foot tall, fell from its nest about 70 feet up a tree near the historic park's duck pond on April 27. Not yet capable of flight, it had no way back up.

Volunteers with the Bird Rescue Center in Santa Rosa picked it up and prepared plans to return it and several others to the wild.

“The first birds of prey to have babies are normally the great horned owls,” said Brad Marsh, a raptor specialist with the rescue center. Thus, baby owls are the first each year to begin falling from the oftentimes deficient nests their parents adopt from other birds, or squirrels.

On Thursday, Marsh, fellow volunteer Natalie Getsinger and tree-climbing arborist and bird lover Merlin Schlumberger gingerly returned five juvenile great horned owls to Sonoma Valley trees.

As the rescuers assembled on the Sonoma Plaza, they were watched from above. A sibling of the fallen owl clutched a branch in a tree next to the one with the nest, and both parents observed from nearby trees.

Schlumberger used a pole-mounted slingshot to fling an end-weighted rope over a limb not far from the nest, then climbed up. Wearing thick gloves, Marsh and Getsinger removed the owl, thought to be a female about 8 weeks old, from a cardboard box and placed it in a canvas pack.

Schlumberger used a rope to hoist the pack up. Marsh asked the clutch of observers on the Plaza lawn to be quiet.

“The owl's going to be very nervous,” he cautioned.

Far up the tree, Schlumberger carefully lifted the owl from the bag and set it on a branch.

Once back on the ground, the arborist spoke of the “cool connection” he feels with the birds he returns to their nests and families.

“They don't really seem to like me,” he said. “Every time I put an owl on a branch, it stares at me all the way down.”

This one was no exception.

You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and

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