VIDEO: Grey owl chicks on a wing and a prayer

Breeders at a bird of prey centre are hoping for their most successful season yet after a medical breakthrough which could see survival rates soar.

Handlers at Elite Falconry in Cluny are currently hand-rearing three great grey owl chicks, a species notoriously difficult to bring to maturity.

The oldest of the three great grey owl chicks

The oldest of the three great grey owl chicks

And the chicks’ survival at 18, 14 and 10 days without any signs of problems, is the most successful they have had so far.

Barry Blyther, owner of the popular centre, said: “These great grey owls come from some of the coldest parts of the world in line with the Arctic circle, so conditions here are not ideal for them.

“If you do successfully breed them, then raising the chicks is also extremely troublesome, with bacteria in their developing gut and the food they eat all prone to causing infections which can easily kill them.”

However Barry explained that, through keeping the bodies of chicks which had died last season and working with one of the world’s leading raptor specialist vets, who is based in Falkirk, they had come up with the best chance yet of success.

These great grey owls come from some of the coldest parts of the world

Barry Blyther, Elite Falconry

“Over the years we have had about 10 eggs, eight of them fertile, but at the end of the day only one of those chicks has survived, and that was about three years ago, so that’s a huge loss of investment,” he said.

“We worked with this vet and took him the bodies of some of the chicks which died and through extensive investigation, he identified bacteria peculiar to the grey owl chick’s gut at different stages in its development.

“We gave them special antibiotics from five days old and they are thriving, which we are delighted with.”

Great grey owl facts

The youngest chick

The youngest chick

Great grey owls are found in North America and Canada, and also across Scandinavia, east to north Mongolia and north-east China.

They live in dense forests of pine and fir trees, close to meadows or open fields.

They breed from three years old, and commonly stay with a mate for life.

Breeding season usually takes place during winter; great grey owls will use abandoned nests from other birds such as hawks and crows, as they will not usually build new nests.

The female incubates the eggs until they hatch and both parents help to feed the young.