Owl Rescued from Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree

The owl is healthy and ready to be released.

rescued owl in box
A worker put the tiny owl in a box.

Ravensbeard Wildlife Center

One minute you’re minding your own business, just hanging out in your home, and the next, you and your house are taking an unexpected three-hour ride to the big city.

A tiny owl was discovered earlier this week by workers transporting this year’s Rockefeller Christmas tree from Oneonta in upstate New York all the way down to Manhattan. The bird was apparently tucked inside the branches of the 75-foot Norway spruce.

A worker placed the owl into a box along with some branches from the tree. His wife reached out to Ellen Kalish, founder and director of Ravensbeard Wildlife Center in Saugerties, New York, hoping to help the newly homeless owl.

Kalish met the couple and checked out her newest rehab patient. She snuck a peek inside the box and saw the huge-eyed, little face looking up at her. She recognized that it was a saw-whet owl, one of the smallest owls in North America.

worker holding owl
A worker found the owl in the tree's branches. Ravensbeard Wildlife Center

Kalish dubbed the owl “Rockefeller” and took him back to the center. Because the owl hadn’t anything to eat or drink for three days, they gave him fluid and all the frozen mice he could eat.

It’s a bittersweet story, say commenters on the center’s Facebook page, who have shared the owl’s tale over 10,000 times. Thankfully, the bird was saved, but it’s unfortunate that the owl lost its home and had to make such a stressful journey.

Many people took the workers to task for not checking the tree thoroughly while others said it would be easy to overlook such a small critter.

“This owl was probably hunkered down for the day against the trunk, not in a nest,” wrote one commenter on Facebook. “They are highly camouflaged and difficult to see at any time so it's not surprising that nobody saw a less-than one pound bird in an extremely massive tree.”

Several people questioned if the owl needed to be returned to familiar territory in Oneonta, but Kalish posted that it would be safer for the bird to be released near the center once it is healthy.

“Saw-whet owls find a new mate every year and are resilient in finding safe places. This owl is a full grown adult and is very capable of finding new territory. We believe it would be even more traumatic to transport him yet again when he can be safely released here on the grounds of Ravensbeard Wildlife Center where there are acres of trees to choose from.” 

Ready for Release

The owl was taken to the vet on Wednesday and got a clean bill of health, Adrienne Kubicz, a spokesperson for the center, tells Treehugger. X-rays showed no broken bones from the long trip to the city or while the 11-ton tree was being hoisted into position.

The owl’s release is being planned for this weekend, she says.

Many people have donated on the center's Facebook page to help pay for the owl's expenses. Because the population of saw-whet owls is decreasing, the group also suggests that bird enthusiasts help build homes for them.

"Saw-whet owl numbers are dropping though, so if you have an interest there is plentiful information on bird society websites showing how to construct owl boxes to help give these precious creatures a safe home."

View Article Sources
  1. "Spark Some Joy.". Rockefellercenter.Com, 2020

  2. International. "IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species: Aegolius Acadicus". IUCN Red List Of Threatened Species, 2020