A friend to the Owls of Solano County

A discussion with Suisun Wildlife Center’s Monique Liguori
By Samuel James Adams

The sacred bird of Athena, Greek goddess of wisdom…A deity of material success to the Ainu people of Japan…A spear-throwing glyph in the writing system of the Maya…and a mail service for the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry…

For as long as humans and owls have coexisted, these nocturnal birds have inspired powerful reactions of fear and wonder, symbolizing everything from death to the moon to metallurgy in the human imagination.

Solano County is home to great horned owls, barn owls, short-eared owls, burrowing owls, western screech owls, as well as rarer, elusive species such as northern pygmy owls, northern saw-whet owls, and flammulated owls. Great Horned Owls are large and powerful enough to hunt osprey; flammulated owls hunt insects on treetops and are described by the Cornell Lab as “scarcely larger than a small juice can.”

Barn owls being mobbed by western bluebirds. Tom Muehleisen

The dedicated group of volunteers at the Suisun Wildlife Center have recovered, housed, and rehabilitated every one of these species.

The Suisun Wildlife Center began in 1977 and was inspired, like many other initiatives, by the first Earth Day celebration. This donation-funded non-profit operates on $55,000 a year and has released over 17,000 wild birds and animals back into the wild. They have continued their mission despite a devastating fire in 2020 in which two great horned owls perished.

Suisun Wildlife Center operates on the other side of Suisun Slough from Rush Ranch Open Space, where it used to be as easy as opening a barn door to let the public see the beautiful barn owls resting on the crossbeams. Candidly, we’re not sure why these barn owls haven’t returned—they may have been predated by the great horned owls. What is certain is that for all their keen senses and reputation for wisdom, owls need open land, healthy woodland, and a robust prey base to thrive.

We spoke with Suisun Wildlife Center’s Executive Director Monique Liguori about the threats owls face, the sort of guests they make recovering at the wildlife center, and why you should think twice before picking up an orphaned chick.

Can you talk about what common injuries and causes of injuries you encounter with owls? Where are injured owls typically found?

Common injuries to owls include being hit by cars (HBC) as they are flying low over roads at night seeking prey attracted to the warmth and insects on the road. Babies often fall from the nest (FFN). Babies and juveniles are fairly easy to raise if they are not injured. Great horned owls need large trees and will be found where those exist in the county, including in the Suisun Marsh where eucalyptus trees grow. Barn owls also need large trees. Short-eared Owls are ground nesting in the Suisun Marsh, and their numbers have declined in the last 20-30 years, sadly. Burrowing owls are hole nesters that make communal burrows underground, and their habitat requirements and vulnerability have caused their number to decline also. The small owls can use many trees in most parts of the county, including in the suburbs.

Great horned owl chick at Rush Ranch. Tom Muehleisen.

Barn owls in the barn at Rush Ranch. Sharon Anderson.

Burrowing owls at Rush Ranch. Tom Muehleisen

What are owls like as guests of the center?

Owls, like all other critters, each have their own personalities, but they tend to be generally calm. Obviously, a great horned or barn owl has formidable weapons (3-inch or more talons) so they must be handled very carefully for their sake as well as ours!

What should people do if they find an injured owl?

If someone finds an injured or orphaned owl, we recommend they call us for advice as to what to do. Sometimes the answer is: nothing! Many young birds of prey go through a period of time after they leave the nest when they are still dependent on their parents, and they may spend time on the ground. We would advise observing to see if the parents return and continue to feed the babies. If so, they should be left alone—the parents are adequate protection!
There are many things to consider, so please call us for help. Wildlife rescue and care are best left to the professionals.

Suisun Wildlife Center is located at 1171 Kellogg St., Suisun City, CA. 94585. Their phone number is (707) 429-4295 and their Wildlife First Aid Tips offers a great primer to help you understand when intervention is needed—and when it isn’t—for the animals one finds in Solano County.