That’s one moist owlette

“Callie, smell this owl.” 

If your typical day starts with this type of conversation, you might be a rehabber.

Peace River Wildlife Center admitted a great horned owl that was found perched on a front porch rail before dawn.  Seeing this is not all that unusual, but when the large bird did not fly off by the time the sun came up, the home owners got concerned and called PRWC.

When the transporter got there, the owl was obviously wet, but otherwise seemed hale and hearty.  He was bundled into a carrier and taken to PRWC where he was placed in an outdoor flight cage to recover from the stress of the car ride.  After an hour or so, he still appeared to be just as wet.  Now that the bird was no longer at risk of shock, he was examined more closely.

The substance that had at first appeared to be merely water turned out to be some sort of sticky substance with a decidedly sweet smell.  We occasionally get birds that have fallen into or landed on wet paint or varnish when outdoor projects go awry.  We have even seen birds that have fallen into a vat of used fry oil from a restaurant parking lot.  But this honey-dipped hooter is a first for us.

Dawn to the rescue.  No matter what foreign substances are polluting the feathers of a bird, Dawn dish soap is our most trusted ally in the battle.  It can even remove oily petroleum-based contamination which is historically the most damaging to fur and feathers and difficult to remove.

The owl was given two baths on his first day at PRWC.  Warm water and diluted Dawn helped sluice the brown contaminant right off the bird, along with a little of his dignity.  Generally feisty birds, this great horned owl seemed rather resigned to his fate.  On the second day, he had one more bath and was finally beginning to look his normal perky (and fluffy) self.  After a few more days of confinement to be sure his waterproofing hadn’t been too damaged, he was ready for release.  We arranged to take him back to the neighborhood where he had been found. 

It is always a challenge to get a large bird in a kennel for transport—way too many moving parts.  With raptors, you want to start by controlling the feet.  Feet in one hand, left wing controlled by your body, right wing under your other arm, you are ready to place the now-frantic owl in a little plastic box with an even tinier door.  Extend one finger to swing the kennel door open and you lose the right wing.  Get that back under control and halfway in the kennel and the left wing shoots out to the side.  Getting a 60-inch wingspan through a 12-inch door is always a challenge.  Eventually the entire bird gets stuffed into the kennel and all folded up, he fits quite nicely.

The next step –getting the bird back out of the kennel—can be even worse, especially if there are witnesses.  You would think the frightened bird would want to flee the confines of the carrier as soon as the door opens, but you would be wrong 99% of the time.  Getting the bird into the kennel involved folding his wings, feet and tail to his body and introducing them through the doorway. 

Getting him out while he is cowering in the back of the kennel necessitates getting both of your arms, covered by thick leather gloves, up to your shoulders into the kennel, one on each side of the bird.  And pull.  The entire kennel moves with you.  Prop your feet on the sides of the kennel to hold it in place.  The bird extends his wings as much as the kennel sides will allow and there is no way that massive thing is getting through that tiny door again.  It’s like trying to put toothpaste back in a tube, but in reverse.

That is what I was prepared for when releasing Mr. Sticky.  The observers had their cameras ready, although I cringe to think what the pictures of me would look like sitting on the ground trying to pry an owl out of a box.  I reached for the door latch and he charged at me.  Unusual.  I disengaged the latch and he rushed the door so hard he almost knocked me over.  He flew off straight and high as we all stood there looking at each other.

“You get any pictures?” 

“Didn’t even get a chance to raise my camera.”

Another successful rehab and release.  If you are thrilled by the mere fact that you were able to do your job and not look like a complete fool in front of spectators, you might be a rehabber.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

Great horned owl drying off after his bath
Great horned owl drying off after his bath
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