A Little Barn Owl Started It All…

For the Love of An Owl
“Chia Comes into our Lives”

In early 1990, while I was a volunteer at the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center, I read a delightful book, “A Place For Owls” by Kay McKeever, a well known owl rehabilitator in Ontario, Canada.

Barn OwlThe escapades of “Granny”, a Spectacled Owl, and her first efforts at being a foster mom was hilarious, touching and inspiring. Excited by Granny’s success at raising displaced owlets, Kay encouraged the use of non-releasable owls as surrogate parents for displaced owlets. Inspired by her success, I persuaded the Director to give me permission to initiate a foster parenting program at the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center, as soon as a “suitable” bird was found.

A few weeks later, a severely ill, six-week old barn owl with permanent wing and leg injuries arrived at the Adobe Mountain facility where I was volunteering. I was given permission to take him home and if he lived, “try to make a foster parent out of him!”

On the way home, I hoped he would survive and that I’d be able to nurse him back to health. Sometime during our first days together, our eyes locked in a moment of pure magic. From there, a special love and commitment grew that still burns deep and strong. Little did I know that this pathetic looking owlet would drastically change our lives forever!

It soon became apparent that “Chia” would need prolonged medical care. The Wildlife center was not willing to spend their resources on one bird with no guarantee that he would survive. We took him to Dr. Irv Ingram, an experienced wildlife veterinarian, who offered to help. Chia was a fighter. Many times we thought he would not survive, but against all odds this little owlet did survive and grew into a beautiful young male.

My husband, Bob, built an aviary for him in the backyard of our former residence — we informally founded Wild At Heart and in 1991, as a single father, Chia raised his first group of 14 displaced nestlings! A gentle and devoted father to his adopted family, Chia became the avian forerunner of foster parenting in Arizona.

His amazing example in-turn inspired other rehabbers to utilize non-releasable birds and mammals as surrogate parents. Over the following eleven years, Chia and his mate Tyta would go on to foster hundreds of baby barn owls.

But Chia did not belong to us. He was legally held under the permits issued to the Adobe Mountain Wildlife Center and not ours to keep. Even though Chia was now “healthy”, his wings and leg were forever compromised. He could not fly and he walked with a limp.

In order for Chia to stay with us permanently, we would need to get special permits from the Arizona Game & Fish Department and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Not an easy task, and one that would require an enormous commitment from both Bob and myself. Owls, as well as most other birds cannot legally be keep as pets.

We would have to start our own rehabilitation organization and hope that Game and Fish would then transfer custody of Chia to us. By then, it was too late to turn back; a life long passion had begun. Wild At Heart was incorporated as a non-profit entity and we’ve dedicated our lives to caring for these wonderful creatures.

Welcome to Wild At Heart!
An Arizona-Based Raptor Rescue

Our Mission: Wild At Heart is a rescue, rehabilitation and release center for birds of prey.  Its primary purpose is to rescue injured owls, hawks, falcons and eagles; rehabilitate them; and, ultimately, release them back into the wild.  Its guiding mission is to do what is in the best interest of these magnificent birds.

Wild At Heart is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization. We, and our birds, are volunteer and donation supported.

At Wild At Heart we:

  • Rescue, rehabilitate, and release birds of prey which have been injured or orphaned.
  • Relocate displaced burrowing owls.
  • Manage species recovery programs.
  • Manage habitat enhancement projects.
  • Provide educational presentations.

Yearly, Wild At Heart rescues and cares for approximately 450-550 owls, hawks, and falcons. In the more recent years, we will receive as many as 600 raptors into our facility. Most of these birds are brought to us by our many dedicated volunteers who drive across the city, county, and state when an injured raptor is reported.

Although our volunteers do not pick-up non-raptors, many songbirds, quail, baby rabbits, and other critters from the cave Creek and Phoenix area are brought into our facility by local residents for temporary care.

We care for these animals until they can be transferred to other rehabilitators who specialize in each type of species.

Barn Owl

Chia – As an Adult
He would become a healthy, nurturing mate and a foster-parent to hundreds of orphaned baby owls.

Barn OwlOur beloved Chia passed away on January 30th, 2002.
Thank you, Chia, for the gift of yourself
and for everything that has followed.
We miss you more than you would ever imagine.