To help

People who find a distressed nestling or adult raptor are asking to contact the Center for Birds of Prey, Awendaw, (843) 971-7474. For step-by-step information on how to handle an injured raptor, go to thecenterforbirds ofprey.org.

The great horned owl might be a powerful raptor, but these owlets couldn't keep from falling out of the nest.

Great Horned Owl

Considered a fierce predator that will take anything from another raptor to a scorpion.

Clenched talon that takes 28 pounds of force to open; used to snap the spine of larger prey.

Eyes don't move in the socket, but the head can swivel more than 180 degrees in either direction.

Soft feathers that help fly quietly. Short, wide wings allow maneuvers among trees.

Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Dale Aren knew something had to be done with the birds in her yard. But what?

She and Scott Allan, her husband, are West Ashley homeowners. She'd always heard not to touch young birds, especially ones with talons. The adults watched from nearby. Adult great horned owls are strong enough to seize prey bigger than they are.

"They are pretty ferocious, pretty protective," Aren said. The fix the couple found themselves in isn't so unusual this time of year. Raptors are nesting, and the young are starting to emerge. Already the orphaned or fallen nestlings - a list that includes hawks and bald eagles - are turning up at the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw, said Director Jim Elliott.

The center has found that the old don't-touch rule isn't always the best way to go. It often is better to return the nestling to the nest, but that's easier said than done. The taloned young and parents will thrash and scream. The animals must be handled as quietly and as little as possible to keep them from habituating to humans. That can put them at risk as adults.

Aren contacted the center, and staff members walked her through it. The first time was the hairiest, as mom glared with those yellow eyes from a nearby tree.

"She was making a ruckus, screeching, flapping," Aren said. The center told her the bird wouldn't attack - probably. So, as Allan kept close watch, she donned gloves, covered the owlet, placed it in a small bucket and climbed a ladder to the nest. But the owlet and its sibling kept tumbling out, and the nest was falling apart.

The couple found one owlet in the hedge below, planted headfirst and spread-eagled - "Or spread-owled," Aren said - with the second hung by its neck on a fork in the branches below.

They moved the nestlings to another old squirrel nest nearby. Then last weekend, as the birds became full time "branchers" rather than nestlings, Aren placed them in a large crook of a live oak. The birds have perched there since, preening and eating dead mice dropped by mom or dad.

"I would have preferred less intervention," Elliott said, but the couple handled it as best they could.