Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

The Orphan Owl | Backyard Nature

Wildlife Filmmaker Ana Salceda made an unlikely companion during the coronavirus pandemic. After discovering a baby barn owl near her home in Spain, Ana decided to take action.


- [Ana] When I arrived home in early March, I had big plans.

But then the COVID pandemic arrived.

The lockdown and to my pleasant surprise, a discovery behind my garage.

My name is Ana Salceda, and while home on lockdown with my mother, I reconnected with an old friend that provided me with an unexpected companion that helped me get through the weeks of isolation that lay ahead.

The story actually begins couple of years ago when I befriended a barn owl that I named Sophia.

If there were to be bright spots during the pandemic, I hoped Sophia with the one of them.

Turns out Sophia had a few surprises of her own.

(crickets chirping) What do we have here?

It has to be Sophia's baby.

After a lot of thought, we decided to leave it to see if it was rescued.

I returned throughout the night to check on her.

I could hear at least two other chicks in the nest and the fallen baby was still there.

An easy prey for a cat.

Owlets on the ground face near certain death and I couldn't climb up to take it back to the nest.

So at dawn I decided to take action.

I recently met a man who rehabilitates and releases animals back into the wild so I decided to take the baby there.

How is the patient?

- Habitat laws and especially agricultural practices have greatly reduced their numbers worldwide.

This place is no exception.

We have been the feeding the owlet three times a day.

Dinner being the richest of them.

In addition to meat, we are using a mineral supplement and dried worms to fulfill the nutrition that the chick would have received from her mom.

- This ghostly sound is the young owlet calling for food.

We have named the owlet Alba.

It has grown a lot in the last two weeks.

It has lost most of his chick fluff and already has the wide distinctive heart-shaped face.

The facial disc collects and directs sound towards the inner ears.

Its plumage is becoming more visible while she still has some bald areas after losing her baby feathers.

- [Ana] Barn owls usually nest in barns, silos, churches, steeples, and abandoned buildings.

These owls can breed the first year and most pairs lay eggs in the spring.

They are incredibly adapted to hunt at night with amazingly sensitive hearing and the ability to see movement with very little light.

Their eyes are twice as light sensitive as human eyes.

Their dark-adapted eyes also work well in full light.

Alba is approximately seven weeks old.

It eats by itself and it has developed a healthy plumage.

During the next weeks, Alba will rehearse short distance flight and it will get stronger and more confident until it's ready for release.

In preparation for Alba's release, Pablo I have measured and weighed the bird.

(owlet hissing) Sexing barn owls is not easy task.

There are other signs such as small black spots on the chest that makes us believe that Alba is a she and she seems ready.

Young barn owls establish territory close to their original nest.

We search a dry roost side with plenty of prey.

There are lots of space and abandoned ruins that make a good home and offer protection.

Even in these uncertain times, it's simply a miracle how nature always gives me hope.


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.