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    Tiny owl found hiding in the Rockefeller Christmas tree isn’t going home. Here’s why.

    Rockefeller, the stowaway owl found in the Norway Spruce taken to Rockefeller Center, all wrapped up in a sweater.

    Rockefeller, the stowaway owl found in the Norway Spruce taken to Rockefeller Center, all wrapped up in a sweater.

    (Image: © Ravensbeard Wildlife Center)

    This season’s new Christmas hero — a tiny owl stowaway that survived the long drive from upstate New York to Rockefeller Center in Manhattan on a Norway spruce — won’t be taken back to his former home to be released back into the wild. 

    So, will he be OK?

    “There’s been a lot of controversy over the release site,” said Ellen Kalish, director and founder of Ravensbeard Wildlife Center, a nonprofit in Saugerties, New York, where the owl, named Rockefeller after the Christmas tree where he was found, is recovering. “[But] saw-whet owls by nature are nomadic. They basically don’t have a home base unless they’re raising a family, in which case they both help to feed the babies and then they’re off to their solo life.”

    Related: Whooo knew? 10 superb facts about owls 

    This nomadic lifestyle works in Rockefeller’s favor. Rather than “stress him out” on a two-hour journey to his old home in Oneonta, New York, Kalish is planning to release him from the wildlife center into the surrounding woods this Saturday (Nov. 21). 

    “It’s called a soft release where we’re going to put food out on the platform in case he’s hungry and doesn’t have a successful night of hunting,” Kalish told Live Science. “We believe that he’s going to go where he wants to go.”

    In the end, this unexpected adventure will be “just a little detour” for the nocturnal predator, she said.

    Image 1 of 4

    Saw-whet owls are forest birds; They often sleep in pine tree cavities during the day to avoid predators, and then hunt at night.

    Northern saw-whet owls are forest birds; they often sleep in pine tree cavities during the day to avoid predators, and then hunt at night. (Image credit: Ravensbeard Wildlife Center)

    Image 2 of 4

    A man who helped transport and secure the Rockefeller Christmas tree found the tiny stowaway.

    A man who helped transport and secure the Rockefeller Christmas tree found the tiny stowaway. (Image credit: Ravensbeard Wildlife Center)

    Image 3 of 4

    Northern saw-whet owls have a catlike face, oversized head and bright yellow eyes, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

    Rockefeller is set to be released this Saturday (Nov. 21). (Image credit: Ravensbeard Wildlife Center)

    Image 4 of 4

    Ellen Kalish, director and founder of Ravensbeard Wildlife Center, holds Rockefeller, who got a clean bill a health from the vet.

    Ellen Kalish, director and founder of Ravensbeard Wildlife Center, holds Rockefeller, who got a clean bill a health from the vet. (Image credit: Ravensbeard Wildlife Center)

    Kalish learned about the vagabond bird earlier this week, when the wife of a worker who helped transport and secure the 75-foot-long (23 meters) Norway spruce called to ask whether the center rehabilitated owls. The woman’s husband had found what he thought was a baby owl in the famed Christmas tree, but the little fluff was a long way from home. 

    Kalish agreed to take the owl. “Initially, when I opened the box and I looked at him, I was so grateful that he was alert and bright-eyed and not in a little heap at the bottom of the box,” she said. 

    She immediately realized it wasn’t an owlet, but a full-grown northern saw-whet owl (Aegolius acadicus); at 2.5 ounces (70 grams), it’s one of the smallest owl species in the United States. (The smallest owl in the world, the appropriately-named elf owl, lives in parts of the American Southwest and Mexico.) Saw-whet owls are named for a call they make, which sounds like a saw being sharpened against a whetting stone, according to The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

    Back at Ravensbeard, Kalish has fed Rockefeller plenty of mice, but “we didn’t watch [him eat] because we don’t want him to associate humans with food,” she said. It’s likely that Rockefeller hadn’t dined or drunk anything for three days, so “we’re just giving him a buffet of all-you-can-eat mice and fattening him up, because he was very thin.”

    Northern saw-whet owls have a catlike face, oversized head and bright yellow eyes, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

    Northern saw-whet owls have a catlike face, oversized head and bright yellow eyes, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (Image credit: Ravensbeard Wildlife Center)

    Otherwise, Rockefeller is doing great. X-rays showed that he didn’t have any fractures and his muscle condition looks good, a vet told Kalish. 

    As for how Rockefeller became a Christmas tree hitchhiker, he isn’t spilling the beans. 

    “It’s anybody’s guess; he’s the only one who knows his true story,” Kalish said. “We suspect that he was trapped or stunned. He could even be in a tree cavity and no one noticed, because [saw-whet owls] are so camouflaged.” 

    Rockefeller isn’t the only unexpected owl “ornament” on record. Last year, a Georgia family was stunned to find an Eastern screech owl in their Christmas tree, according to Fox4 News

    Originally published on Live Science.

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