Dear Editor,

On April 4, 2009, five baby Barn Owl chicks (about 1 week old) were found in a box at the corner of Light and First Streets, Alberttown. A member of the Guyana Amazon Tropical Birds Society (GATBS) was passing and, curious as to the gathering of people around the box, stopped to look. One man said, “They’re monkeys” another said, “No, they’re birds.” Andy Narine, founder of GATBS was brought to the scene and explained to the crowd that they were baby Barn Owls. He went on to educate the audience saying: they were not dangerous, that they were useful to society because they killed mice and rats, that they should be helped and not harmed, and that they would die if not fed and cared for. He then placed them in a cage and took them to his home.

A member of GATBS did some research and discovered where the owls came from; he found the family who had been sharing their home with the owls on a private lot. They said they could not stand the stench and noise the owls were making so they decided to remove the nest, but not knowing what to do with them dropped them on the sidewalk.

At about 6 pm that evening the baby owls started screaming and neighbours became concerned, wondering what the noise was all about. To the surprise of Andy and other onlookers, a pair of adult owls started flying around their house about 7.30 pm; the cries of the chicks grew louder. Knowing that Barn Owls do not like bright lights, Andy turned them off. Almost immediately the suspected parents came in closer, dropping food for their young. While the parents could not get inside the cage, they did the next best thing, leaving over 3 lbs of dead rats and doves for their chicks, never spending much time on the ground.  Andy took on the role of stand-in mom and delivered dinner to the chicks. The chicks remained calm for the next 22 hours but began their screeching, right on schedule, the next evening.

The neighbours began complaining about the noise so Andy went in search of the perfect home, somewhere away from people and where the baby owls could be visited by Mom and Dad Owl at their leisure. He found the ideal spot, a power line post on the railway embankment. He met Minister Benn, while he was inspecting the work underway there, and told him of the baby owls’ plight and of wanting to leave them on the embankment. The good Minister supported the idea and Andy placed the baby owls in a cage on the post, covered it with a dark cloth and left a good supply of raw chicken and water for the chicks. The members of GATBS went daily to check on the owls’ progress, to clean their trays and leave fresh water. Every evening, as it got dark, the adult owls could be seen delivering dinner to the baby owls. With their diet of rats and doves, each day the chicks were getting bigger. On June 2, the first Barn Owl chick left the nest. By the end of the week the remaining three chicks flew off. Unfortunately, number five had died earlier from unknown causes.

Andy and other members of GATBS saved the lives of four Barn Owls that will probably be flying around the city tonight catching rats and mice. If each owl catches just one lb of rodents per night, the four owls together will have caught 1,400 lbs of rodents after one year.  At three rodents per lb, that would be 4,200 rodents removed from the streets of Georgetown by just four owls. Not bad!

The important thing to be learned from this experience is that every animal plays an important role in our environment. Barn Owls help keep our city cleaner and healthier by eating tons of rats and mice. We can help the owls do their job better by dimming or turning off un-needed lights.

If I worked for City Hall I would be promoting the installation of low-cost, owl-friendly habitats to stimulate the growth of the owl population. Look at the benefits: owls don’t demand salaries or go on strike and we have a cleaner and healthier city for everyone.

Yours faithfully,
Syeada Manbodh

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