Great Horned Owl Rescue
I have the perfect job for someone who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Unfortunately I don’t think I had ADHD before I started working at Peace River Wildlife Center. Between the constantly ringing telephones; visitors peeking into the office to get change or see Bella, our glove-trained great horned owl, sitting on the desk chair; medical rounds on the residents; and emergencies when injured patients come in— it is almost impossible to finish a thought, much less a sen
tence. Sorry about that. I just got a call from a frantic person who had found an injured bird but couldn’t bring it to us. Sixteen phone calls later, I finally found someone who can pick up the bird and transport it to PRWC for treatment. I got a phone call similar to that one the other day as I was leaving my house to go to work. There was an owl stuck in a fence off of a road near my house. (Or so I thought.) Funny thing is this particular road is a long one. I was aware of the portion of the road east of Taylor, but what I didn’t realize is that the road runs for miles south and west to Cape Coral. So what I thought was going to be a quick detour on my way to work, turned into an adventure. It always does.
My original supposition of the rescue was of an eastern screech owl caught in goat fencing, since the area where I envisioned the episode taking place has just such livestock. Unfortunately by the time I got to where the incident was unfolding, it was a great horned owl caught in some of the thickest barbed wire fencing I have ever seen. Luckily I had everything I needed to assist the imprisoned avian—well, everything except a means to release him. I did not have a wire cutter strong enough to cut the fence. Nor did I have the homeowner’s permission and they were not in evidence on the property. (I may have overlooked that minor detail had I been properly equipped. After all, they did call in the situation.)
My bag of tricks included a towel and a pillowcase. I had tried to use the pillowcase to cover the bird’s head. Normally when working with any bird, if you can cover their eyes, they remain much calmer. This particular bird was not particularly frantic by the time I arrived. He seemed to take my ministrations in stride. After I had gently placed the pillowcase over his head three times, only to have him gently shuck it right back off, we agreed to disagree on that point. He obviously wanted to watch what I was doing. Maybe in case he ever found himself in this predicament again?
With my thick leather gloves, I held the bird’s feet in my left hand to support his weight. He had been dangling by the skin of one wing that had gotten wrapped around one of the multi-pronged barbs of the top rail of the fence, probably while chasing some prey in the early morning hours before dawn. I tried to pull the skin off of the barb, but it was inextricably wound around the four distinct prongs. And since I only had one hand with which to work, that effort was quite ineffective.
I had to go back to my car and get another tool, but I didn’t want to leave the owl dangling by his wing again. I wrapped the towel around the lower rail of the fence, so the barbs wouldn’t hurt his feet, and tried to coax his feet to grasp the perch. He seemed to catch on pretty quickly. He let go of my hand, I let go of his talons, and he perched on the towel. For all of two seconds. As soon as I turned toward my car, he pulled the “dead man’s flop.” Our own Bella is well known for this maneuver too. If she is not getting her way, she will throw her head back and go limp. Very similar to a two-year-old child throwing a temper tantrum, and just as frustrating for the parental units.
I retrieved a knife from my car and proceeded to free the tender skin that was wrapped around the fence barb. I sliced through it easily enough and I bundled the injured owl into a kennel and transported him to PRWC. The tender skin of his wing’s patagium had two distinct holes. This delicate skin that connects the bird’s wing to his shoulder is vital for flight, especially when feeding by diving onto prey sighted from a high perch. If this skin does not heal well enough for the bird to fly, he may need to be placed as an education bird. Hopefully it will not come to that.
This great horned owl is at PRWC recovering from his misadventure. Like all of the rehab animals that we hope to release after their recovery, he is not on display to the public. PRWC does however have over 100 other birds on display that cannot be released due to their inability to care for themselves in the wild. Visit us seven days a week from 11a.m. to 4p.m. to learn more about southwest Florida’s native wildlife. We are open from 8a.m. to 5p.m. for injured animal intake.
by–Robin Jenkins, DVM