Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Great Horned Owl Rescue

My wife and I went walking in our local natural area preserve last Friday evening after work. As we were walking along a trail paralleling the main watercourse in the preserve, we passed two women who enthused, "There's an owl sitting on the bank of the creek just around the corner!" Naturally, I was excited about the possibility of seeing an owl up close, but also approached with trepidation because, of course, owls shouldn't be sitting on the ground. I hoped against hope that the owl had just made a kill, but when I saw the bird I saw that it was not sitting on a rodent or a rabbit.

The owl was across the creek, and the creek was too wide and deep to wade, so I made a long detour to a bridge, crossed the creek, and backtracked to the owl's location. When I finally approached, the bird went into a defensive posture--puffing up, hissing, and clacking its beak, but it didn't fly. A bad sign. So, I called the preserve headquarters and, luckily, a staff member and a wildlife biologist were working late on a research project that evening. They quickly came down to the stream to rescue the owl.

The biologist threw his jacket over the bird and then held it tightly to avoid the talons. The owl bit him several times, but he told me that owls' beaks are actually pretty weak--the feet are the business part. He examined the bird visually and manually and declared it looked healthy and he didn't detect any broken bones. However, to play it safe, he decided to take the bird to a local rehab center.

Fast forward two days... The rehab center staff suggested that the owl had probably ingested poison, probably a poisoned rodent. They said that the owl likely would respond well to rehab, but that full recovery might require up to three months.

In any case, the owl wouldn't have survived long on the ground. Our good deed for the day.

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