Did we mess up by telling the Pikes Peak region about the Great Horned owlets in Mountain Shadows?
Some Gazette readers think so and are telling us, sometimes in harsh terms, via letters and phone messages.
I don’t think we did and I’ll tell you why.
First, a recap.
On May 2, we ran a beautiful photo of snow swirling around three baby Great Horned owls huddled in their nest in a Mountain Shadows tree.
The photo, by Mark Reis, our director of photography, also took another showing a woman standing under the tree, holding a child to get a better view. Two other children stood by her.
In his photo caption, Reis reported hundreds of people had been stopping to view the owlets.
And he quoted Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Michael Seraphin warning people to keep a safe distance because the owlets’ parents might attack anyone getting too close to the nest. They are capable of doing serious injury with their sharp talons.
Despite the warnings, people kept showing up at the corner of Centennial Boulevard and Vindicator Drive in large numbers. Reportedly, some climbed the tree and even prodded the nest with a long pole.
Police were called. Barriers erected. Warnings issued.
Finally, the owlets were removed last week by wildlife officials who feared for the safety of the owls and the public.
Today, the owlets are rehabbing at the Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center where founder Donna Ralph and her staff are caring for the trio. Donna reports the birds are thriving, eating on their own mice left for them, and socializing with Hootie, an adult owl and permanent center resident. Hootie serves as a foster mom to owl babies routinely brought to the center.
Some readers criticized folks who harassed the owls, expressing disgust for their lack of respect for nature.
Others, however, ripped The Gazette for revealing the location of the owls.
So I asked Mark why he thought it was important to photograph the owls and publish their location.
He said wildlife photos are among the most popular features in The Gazette.
“Wildlife is part of the reason many of us live here,” he said. “Most of us love the fact we interact with wildlife nearly every day, all year long.
“By photographing them and reporting their location, we were just offering readers an opportunity to come and see them.”
The owls were not a secret. Hundreds in the area already had seen them. Mark said 30 or so people came by in the time he was there taking photos.
It was the same thing with the injured mule deer with the spectacular antlers that perched for weeks on a ledge in Rockrimmon earlier this winter. Hundreds of people were coming to see the deer and ignoring wildlife officials’ warnings to keep a safe distance from the injured wild animal.
Our readers depend on us to tell them what is going on in the community. Not protect them from information. Our job is to hold us a mirror to the community, whether you like what you see or not.
Had we withheld the location of the owls or deer, we’d have been bombarded with angry callers demanding to know. We’re in the information business, after all. And you trust us to tell you the truth.
If you can’t trust us to tell you something as simple as the location of a nest of owls, what other information might we be “protecting” from our readers?
Certainly it’s disappointing some people abused the privilege we enjoy of living so close to nature.
But it’s not the job of the daily paper to withhold information from readers. Just the opposite.
If we stumble on a great restaurant, we’re going to tell you. Or we find an obscure trail that readers might enjoy, you better believe we’ll write about it. Know a great spot to encounter big horn sheep? We’ll spread the word.
That’s what readers expect and demand from us. We do so with the expectation folks will be responsible and take official warnings to heart.
Sadly, some won’t. And if they do it with the wrong animal, they might get bitten or mauled or injured.
We’ll write about that, as well.
TO SPONSOR THE OWLS
The three hungry Great Horned owlets are stretching the budget of the non-profit Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center mighty thin, said founder Donna Ralph.
She would welcome tax-deductible donations from interested sponsors. Learn more at http://ellicottwildlife.com