Jackson County

One phone call can save lives of owls, other animals living in South Mississippi trees

Almost all the babies that Judy Roe has kept warm and fussed over, with round-the-clock feedings this spring and summer, are the casualties of tree cutting services.

On Monday, the Wildlife Care and Rescue Center got three more baby screech owls when a tree was toppled and their nest came down with it.

One of them has a damaged eye from the fall, Roe said. She works full-time with wildlife rehabilitation this time of the year. She’s one of five with the center.

Baby squirrels, screech owls and hatchlings from bird nests are the most common wildlife orphaned when tree services disturb their nests by cutting or pruning, something that kicks into high gear at the same time animals that live in trees are raising their young.

The owlets had their nest cut out from under them. They are about a month old and had another month to go before they are able to hunt and fend for themselves. Tree service workers brought them in.

Cutting is a particular problem with screech owls, because the small owls nest in holes or cavities of trees — holes where other animals have nested, out of the way of larger raptors who might take their food from them.

They are keen hunters with a sharp sense of hearing in order to catch rats, bats and other small prey. Screech owls are numerous on the Coast. The owls nest in late winter and fledge their babies in the late summer.

All 12 screech owls that Roe has worked to save and raise to return to the wild have been brought in from tree cutting. And there have been twice as many baby squirrels for the same reason.

The nests come down with the trees and the babies are too young to fly away or leap to safety. So they suffer head trauma, brain injuries, crushing blows, concussions, spinal injuries and loss of eyesight, Roe said, ticking off the injuries she has treated.

With other owls, rescue workers can build a nest box and relocate them to a nearby tree where their mothers can find them and take over. But not the screech owls. When they lose their nest, it’s left to humans to step in.

Her plea is that tree service workers look before they cut. The screech owls live in a large hole. Squirrels have large nests of leaves in the tops of trees.

The best scenario is to leave the nests alone for a month until the babies leave the nest. But at the least, she’d rather they find the animals and call.

“I’d rather take them from their mothers than have them come down with the tree,” she said. “Look before you cut. Call us and let us come save the babies.”

This time of year, just about every squirrel nest has babies, she said.

One Ocean Springs tree service told the Sun Herald that it’s their unwritten rule to save wildlife by calling rescue when they’ve taken down a tree with a nest in it.

Wildlife rescue is hoping all tree services can take that plan a step further, learn what to look for and call before they cut.

“If they come to a tree with a big hole in it, maybe they should look,” Roe said.

She understands that more wildlife on the Coast live closer to humans because of encroachment and habitat destruction.

“More homes are being built,” she said, “and trees come down.”

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