A tiny Northern saw-whet owl was discovered huddled inside the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree that had been transported to Manhattan
Imagine your surprise if you are awakened in the middle of the night, when you and your entire bedroom are bundled up tightly and transported from a small rural town to New York City.
This is exactly what happened to a Northern saw-whet owl who was trapped for three days in a 75 foot (23 meter), 11-ton Norway spruce tree that now stands in Rockefeller Center. The tree, which was felled on Thursday in Oneonta, New York, was transported to Manhattan, a distance of 170 miles (274 km).
According to a statement on facebook, officials at Ravensbeard Wildlife Center received a phone call on Monday morning from a woman about a ‘baby owl’ that was discovered in a tree. The woman’s husband, who works for the company that transported and secured the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, discovered the owl.
But this diminutive owl is no baby. He is an adult male Northern saw-whet owl, Aegolius acadicus. Saw-whet owls, which range across much of North America, are one of the smallest owl species on the continent, standing no more than 8.3 inches (21cm) tall. Because larger owls and other raptors find these tiny birds make tasty snacks, saw-whet owls only venture out under the cover of darkness. They spend their days perched motionless on a branch of a dense conifer tree, close to the trunk. Although they often perch at eye level, they are rarely spotted by people because their mottled plumage camouflages them from prying eyes.
“Yesterday morning, I received a phone call from someone who asked if we take in owls for rehabilitation”, wrote the spokesperson for Ravensbeard Wildlife Refuge in a facebook statement.
“I replied ‘yes we do’, there was silence for a moment and she said: ‘OK, I’ll call back when my husband comes home, he’s got the baby owl in a box tucked in for the long ride’.”
“She lived about an hour south so we met in the middle to do the transfer”, the Ravensbeard spokesperson added on facebook.
The tiny owl, now known as ‘Rockefeller’, is recovering at Ravensbeard Wildlife Refuge, after a veterinary check-up and x-rays on Wednesday night revealed that the hungry and dehydrated bird had not been seriously injured by his wild adventure.
Ravensbeard is a non-profit wildlife rescue center located in the small town of Saugerties, which lies partially inside Catskill Park, the smaller and less well-known of New York’s two Forest Preserves.
After arriving at the rescue center, the tiny owl received fluids and has been given “all the mice he will eat” because he had nothing to eat or drink during his three day road trip whilst bundled tightly inside the tree.
“It’s amazing he didn’t get crushed”, said Ravensbeard Wildlife Center director Ellen Kalish, who added that he is “a Christmas miracle of 2020”.
How is he doing now?
“So far, he’s pensive and cautious. Very alert, bright-eyed”, Ms Kalish said. “And the cuteness factor is just off the charts.”
Meanwhile, the tree apparently did not withstand the journey as well as its avian passenger. It has been mocked widely on social media as ‘the perfect symbol of 2020’ because it is rather ‘sparse’. The tree, which did look much better in photographs taken earlier in the year, was donated to Rockefeller Center by a homeowner in Oneonta, New York. Undaunted by all the negativity, the tree is already being decorated with five miles of lights and will be topped by a large star. The star weighs 900 pounds, and is made of 3 million Swarovski crystals mounted on 70 illuminated spikes.
What are the plans for this tiny owl?
“Once he checks in with the vet and gets a clean bill of health, he’ll be released to continue on his wild and wonderful journey”, the Ravensbeard spokesperson wrote on facebook.
Ravensbeard does not plan to release the tiny owl in the same location where he had been roosting because the staff are worried that enduring such a long journey — again — could be too traumatic. But a different release site is not a serious problem for this bird because most Northern saw-whet owls tend to roam in winter anyway: some even migrate south for the winter, although they do eventually settle down in springtime to find new mates and territories.