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Juvenile spotted owl behind a branch with a wooden background.

Behind the Scenes: Health Checks

After each chick hatches, the Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program staff hand-raises them for 10-14 days until the chick is returned to parent owls. While in our care, we perform health examinations once a day for every chick. This helps us track developmental milestones, find any potential issues chicks may be struggling with, and provide support if necessary.

The chick pictured below is about 72 hours old. Let's take a look at what our team does to assess the health of this chick...

Step 1

We check the posture, feather growth, and skin colour of the chick while listening to the sounds it makes. This chick is able to hold its head up. During this health check you may hear it 'hissing' or 'peeping.'

Step 2

At this age, the chick's eyes and ears are still closed. The beak and nares (nostrils) should be clean and clear. Gently opening their beak, we examine the mouth and throat.

Step 3

Carefully turning the chick on its back, we examine the chick’s yolk plug (like a belly button, where the chick internalized the egg yolk before hatching), vent (the outermost part of the cloaca), and its legs and feet. At this age, the yolk plug is still healing and will be a small scab.

Step 4

We gently press on the chick's abdomen. The chick's belly should be firm after eating but not too hard, which could signal digestive issues.

This article was originally published in our 2023 Newsletter.


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