Nellie the barred owl finds new love

As the seasons change, new life is taking flight in Myers Park.

You may remember nervous Nellie and lazy Ned, two barred owls that lived together for years in Edgehill Park. Last summer, Ned was injured and hospitalized at the Carolina Raptor Center.

Nellie remained at home, high up in the willow oaks, a single mom to three little owlets. Below, the residents of Myers Park anxiously waited for the happy couple to be reunited.

Owls mate for life. But weeks passed, and Ned never returned. He can’t fly well enough to be in the wild.

So Nellie moved on.

Marsha Gaspari, a naturalist who blogs about the owls, said Nellie probably had a hard time at first finding a new mate. “Not many would help a widow with three babies to feed.”

But after months of Nellie being on her own, a new “stud” swooped in. He began courting her in January when the owl’s mating season begins. Laura Gaines, who lives near the park, noticed the new owl and tried to talk to Nellie’s suitor – but he flew away.

“He is really cute and Nellie just couldn’t resist,” Gaines said.

Nellie is now happily in a new relationship with two baby owls.

Learning to fly

While the family generally keeps to Edgehill Park, sometimes the four owls venture to nearby Squirrel Park where residents of Myers Park occasionally spot them.

The baby owls are still in their awkward, fluffy and cute stage. They still can’t fly far. But if you look up in the trees around dusk, you may see them jumping around on branches and learning from their parents.

Nellie’s kids, like all ambitious siblings, have a competitive spirit and often try to outdo each other. “One tries to do something and then the other will try to do it,” Gaspari said.

Despite their friendly rivalry, the two are inseparable.

Nellie and her new mate are teaching their young owls how to pounce on prey, how to fly and how to do other owl duties. It is a learning process, and sometimes the branches of the old trees in Myers Park on which they practice can break.

It could be very dangerous if one fell.

Ned’s new career

But, if one of the babies is injured, it’s possible Ned would take care of the owlet.

After his accident, Ned discovered a new calling – helping other owls in need. He now acts as a surrogate father at the Carolina Raptor Center, nurturing and raising baby owls that are injured or separated from their parents.

“We knew Ned had a history of being a good parent,” said David Scott, the veterinarian at the Raptor Center. “He is really good at it.”

While Ned is now a working man, Gaspari wonders if the real reason Ned isn’t flying is because he is too lazy to leave the free food at the center.

It is only a suspicion, but Ned always was a lazy owl. And at the Raptor Center, he even gets a five month off-season where he can relax. It fits him perfectly. “Hopefully Ned will be here for a long time,” Scott said.

While Ned and Nellie are now separate, their story of love and loss remains. Both are happily moving on and assuming new lives apart.

Tyler Fleming: 704-358-5355