Barred Owl Rescued from Fireplace

Cavity-nesting birds can get trapped in open chimneys, posts, and pipes.

A barred owl peeks out from inside a chimney.
A barred owl peeks out from inside a fireplace.

Marcus Scherer

A homeowner in Massachusetts had a surprising visitor come down the chimney … and it wasn’t Santa.

A barred owl was sitting in the fireplace in a home in the city of Bolton, staring earnestly at the human inhabitants. Not sure how to deal with the avian interloper, the homeowner called Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, known as MassWildlife.

“This individual was very calm and we simply reached in, gently grabbed it, and placed it in the animal carrier,” MassWildlife Central District Manager Todd Olanyk, tells Treehugger.

Before releasing the owl, Olanyk examined the bird for injuries and found none.

“It was released just outside the house where it was found,” he says. “It's important to release animals as close to their home territory as possible.”

The owl quickly flew off when it was released.

Todd Olanyk removes the owl from the fireplace.
Todd Olanyk carefully removes the ow. Marcus Scherer

Barred owls never build their own nests. They make their homes in cavities like natural hollows in trees. They also like to commandeer the old nests of hawks and crows or even the nest belonging to squirrels, according to the Audubon Society. They rarely nest on the ground.

In Massachusetts, barred owls start laying their eggs from February through May. It’s likely this rescued owl might have been looking for a cavity for nesting when it found itself stuck in a chimney with no way out, Olanyk says.

MassWildlife has also received similar reports of this happening with other cavity-nesting birds like mergansers and American kestrels.  

To help prevent wild animals like birds, bats, raccoons, or squirrels from entering your home, MassWildlife suggests placing a metal cap with a screen on your chimney.

The Dangers of Open Pipes

Chimneys aren’t the only places that pose a danger to birds and other wildlife.

A 2014 study in Western North American Naturalist documented cases of open bollards and open pipes causing bird deaths at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Bollards are short vertical posts typically used for traffic control or building security. They’re usually capped but in this case, many of these posts were left open.

Researchers found that 27% of the more than 100 uncapped bollards had dead birds inside them. They also looked at 88 open pipes used as gate posts and 11% contained dead birds. In another study on a nearby highway, 14% of the open pipes had dead birds.

Western bluebirds, which often nest in cavities, were the most common species that were found in the pipes.

“The birds likely investigate the open pipe as a potential nesting site, and once inside they cannot climb the smooth metal or extend their wings to fly out and they perish. Alternatively, birds may attempt to land on the upright open pipes and then fall in,” the researchers wrote.

“Based on these preliminary findings, the number of bird deaths from this source is potentially very large and should be a concern in bird conservation and management.”

Conservationists are taking steps to prevent dangerous situations for wildlife.

The Teton Raptor Center, for example, has launched the Poo-Poo Project throughout the U.S. and Canada. It prevents cavity-nesting birds and other wildlife from entering vault toilets by installing screens on ventilation pipes.

Vault toilets are the self-contained restrooms found in many state parks and campgrounds. They feature tall, large vertical ventilation pipes that often attract birds.

As of June 2020, 16,000 of the screens have been sold to more than 600 partners. The group is working to educate and increase awareness.

The center writes, “One owl meeting its ultimate fate at the base of a human waste receptacle is one owl too many.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Barred Owl." Audubon.

  2. Hathcock, Charles D., and Jeanne M. Fair. "Hazards to Birds from Open Metal Pipes." Western North American Naturalist, vol. 74, no. 2, 2014, pp. 228-230, doi:10.3398/064.074.0209