Mother Lode Wildlife Care is a registered 501(c)3 public non-profit organization. For more information call Murphy (209) 677-7249

Seven owls, including a California spotted owl are recovering and rehabilitating for their eventual return to the wild with Laura Murphy of the Tuolumne-based nonprofit group Mother Lode Wildlife Care.

The spotted owl, a species that is under consideration for listing under the Federal Endangered Species Act, is a full-grown adult female, she weighs a little under two pounds and her wingspan is almost 40 inches, Murphy said.

The other owls in Murphy's care are three juvenile barn owls and three juvenile great horned owls.

Murphy has had the spotted owl since February, when someone found the bird in a snowbank, being picked on by ravens, in the Strawberry area.

There was a lot of snow on the roads then and it took time to bring the owl down to Mother Lode Wildlife Care in Tuolumne.


“She was emaciated, in really bad shape,” Murphys said Friday in a phone interview. “I had to intubate her to feed her for the first week five days or so.”

Murphy said she’s trying to get the spotted owl ready for release maybe by late July. She says she is starting to feed the spotted owl live game and trying to retrain it to hunt. Spotted owls are raptors, and they are nocturnal, sit-and-wait predators that often hunt from a perch and swoop or pounce on their prey.

“She’s a gorgeous bird,” Murphy said. “I put some live bait down there for her last night and I’m waiting for her to hunt. Flying squirrels are a big part of their diet. Mice. Woodrats. Perch and pounce, they like to listen, and then they pounce.”

Spotted owls are hunted in turn and their main predators are other raptors, including northern goshawks and great horned owls.

The spotted owl recovering in Tuolumne is a full-grown adult that’s been through at least one full winter, Murphy said. Other than that, it’s unclear how old the spotted owl is.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service completed a positive 90-day finding in September 2015 and the decision on whether to list the spotted owl as endangered is due by Sept. 30, 2019.

Owl ‘babies’

Murphys calls the barn owls and great horned owls she is caring for “babies” because they were born this spring, they are still growing, and they are still learning to become adult owls.

The barn owls have been with Murphy since early June. They came to her from a truckload of hay delivered to Groveland. The three juvenile barn owls had been staying in a barn, nesting in the hay, and the hay was loaded onto a truck.

“They were starving,” Murphy said. “They were all kids and they didn’t know how to hunt yet.”

Two of the great horned owls came from a nest and the third was found injured near Highway 120, Murphy said. She’s had all the great horned owls since April.

Murphy estimates she’s worked with about 500 raptors in the past 20 years, including red-tailed hawks, bald eagles, great horned owls, osprey, barn owls, screech owls, great grey owls, red-shouldered hawks, and Cooper’s hawks.

Annually, Mother Lode Wildlife Care takes in about 250 animals a year, with 150 songbirds and about 100 other birds and animals, including hawks, owls, aquatic birds, squirrels, bats, pond turtles and rabbits, Murphy said.

Contact Guy McCarthy at or 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.