March 8 was supposed to be a sad day for Columbia resident April Gremillion. The city was coming to remove the beloved old oak tree in her front yard.
But when a crew came over and started trimming away branches, “all of the sudden this huge owl flies out,” Gremillion said. “Then they looked in the hole the owl came out of and saw the eggs in there.”
After discovering the nest, Gremillion said the city agreed to hold off on removing the tree. Since then, the three barred owls (two parents and one baby) residing in her yard have reached celebrity status in Melrose Heights.
In the evenings, neighbors swing by to get a glimpse of the birds and hear their distinctive calls. When Gremillion is outside doing yard work, she said people stop and ask her “is this the owl tree?”
“It’s been a tremendous source of entertainment for us over the last couple of months,” said neighbor Flynn Bowie. “They’re the mascots of the neighborhood.”
On Monday, Bowie discovered the baby owl (who they nicknamed “Melrose”) hiding under Gremillion’s car. Upon hearing that the owlette had strayed from the nest, neighbors sprung into action, blocking off the car with safety cones.
By dusk, little Melrose had migrated over to the base of the tree but was struggling to make it back up to the nest.
“Everyone was outside watching it try to scramble up the tree,” said neighbor Kim Kim Foster Tobin. “It turned into some sort of wine event.”
When it became clear that the baby owl wouldn’t be able to return the nest, Gremillion grew concerned. She feared little Melrose might get snatched up by a cat or hit by a car. The next day she spoke to Helen Dyer from Carolina Wildlife Care Center, who helped put her at ease.
“This is actually typical behavior for older owlets,” Dyer said. “They get big and active and come out of the nest to hang out on the ground. The parents will come out and feed them there instead.”
In these situations, Dyer said it’s best to just leave the owlet alone. Even if you find a bird that’s injured, she said you should never take a wild animal into your home and attempt to care for it yourself.
“Always call an animal rehabilitation center because you don’t want to do more harm than good,” she said.
Following Dyer’s advice, Foster Tobin constructed a makeshift nest for the owlet on Tuesday. Gremillion purchased a special camera to keep an eye on the baby, and now the whole block is eagerly waiting to see what it will do next.
“We knew this whole thing would be a saga and that they’d be around for a while but no one expected to get this involved,” said Foster Tobin.