By Lisa Hughes

BOSTON (CBS) – At first, they didn’t know what she was. A tiny ball of white-grey feathers making a noise somewhere between a chirp and a squawk.

Dale Casto could see that the owlet had fallen about 70 feet from a nest on his Sudbury property. She was easy prey for any of the area’s predators. He rushed next door to the Greenfields’ house.

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Todd Greenfield is Dale’s “fix it” buddy.

“Anytime Todd is in the yard, Dale comes out to help him,” Todd’s wife Sam explained. Todd nodded, adding, “He’s the most amazing neighbor.”

A baby owl that fell to the ground in Sudbury. (WBZ-TV)

Their friendship was about to become even richer.

“He knows I have ladders and tools and whatnot. So I went and scoured our house for a s’mores drawer,” Todd said.

Sam Greenfield had planned to use the old drawer as a tray from which to serve s’mores at their fire pit—an idea she had seen on Pinterest. But Todd had another idea. After filling the shallow drawer with leaves and pine branches and drilling it to the same tree the owlet fell from (reinforced with a bike rack from their garage) Todd was ready to carefully lift the bird into her new “nest.” He used gloves so that his skin didn’t make contact with the bird.

The owl nest a family made in their Sudbury yard. (WBZ-TV)

Even once she was secure in the nest, they were worried. What if the parents didn’t feed the owlet? They had to know what would happen.  Todd installed a doorbell camera above the nest and waited.

Twenty-four hours later, the camera gave them a perfect view of a family reunion. Both parents returned to feed the baby. Every night since they have delivered all manner of meals—sometimes feeding her as many as five times a night.

“I don’t know where it goes,” Todd laughed. “The owl is tiny. In some cases it’s two mice and a chipmunk. And then there’s other stuff all in the same night! We have learned a lot!”

They named the baby bird Owlivia.

Thanks to Sam’s posts online, a lot of other people are also learning Owlivia. Watching daily footage from the doorbell camera has given students, families, neighbors—even Mass Audubon—a window into the world of the wild baby animal. A Mass Audubon volunteer visited the neighbors and praised their handiwork on the nest. She checked Owlivia for broken bones and could see that the bird was healthy. Todd now sends her multiple videos a day.

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“They’re actually learning from this experience with another bird that fell—another owl that fell out of a nest in Lexington,” he said.

The volunteer is also studying what Owlivia eats, how often she eats and her behaviors in the nest.

Owlivia is thriving and growing up in front of an audience to which she is oblivious.

“It’s unbelievable how people are connecting over this, “Sam said.

To have such an adorable, interesting distraction — 14 months into a pandemic — is a gift. And not everyone is convinced Owlivia’s arrival in Dale’s yard is a coincidence. Eleanor, his wife of 58 years died of a stroke three weeks before the owlet fell on his property. At a time when his neighbors worried that he would be lonely, Dale is surrounded by people who stop by for a glimpse of the nest and want to talk about the owl.

Sam believes it’s serendipity.

“Truly,” Sam nods, “One of his son’s said yesterday, ‘I do feel like part of it is our mother watching over him.’ They believe it too.”

Owlivia’s mother warms her in a nest. (WBZ-TV)

Dale can see the nest from his upstairs window and checks it often.

“It’s also giving him something to connect with his own grandchildren. So Todd sends him videos every morning and he (Dale) sends them out. So that connection is also really sweet,” Dale said.

Like anyone who has watched a baby grow up, the joy is bittersweet. Mass Audubon estimates that owlets fly from the nest 40-50 days after birth. If Owlivia was three weeks old when she fell on April 6, she is on schedule to fly any day. Just thinking about it makes Sam a little sad.

“It’s like your kids going off to college,” Sam said.

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Todd agrees but adds, “I’ll be happy for her and her parents.”

Lisa Hughes