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owl repair and other animal news

November 25, 2009

Today, shortly after I arrived at the wildlife center, an injured Great Horned Owl was brought in. I don’t often get to assist with the treatment of the animals. Usually I am involved in cleaning their enclosures and feeding them, or else doing data entry. However, today I got to help.

The owl was brought in by some nice folks who live out in the country and found the owl at the edge of an orchard by the side of a road. The owl was barely moving, so they didn’t have much trouble putting it into a pet carrier and driving it out to the center.

I handed them an intake form to fill out, and then donned ultra-heavy kevlar-reinforced suede gloves. The key to handling wild raptors and moving them from one place to another is first to grab their legs just above their feet. The most dangerous part of these birds is not their sharp beak, it’s their talons. They eat with their beaks, they kill with their talons.

I got one hand gripped on both its legs, and got my other hand under its back. Owls and most other birds are sometimes brought to the center in a more lively condition, and challenging to handle. This one was not difficult to hold.

Once I held it in both hands, I turned it with its back against me, facing away from me, wings tucked in, held by my elbows to make sure, and both hands on the feet.

I laid the owl down on the operating and examining table, on its back, with its body pointed away from me, so my supervisor could examine the bird. I held its legs pointed up and out of her way, so she could examine the bird’s wounds.

Apparently, someone sicko had shot the owl.  There was a small entry and exit wound on one of the bird’s wings. I am guessing a full-metal jacket round was used and not a hollow-point, because a hollow point bullet would likely have made more of a mess of the bird.

The wounds didn’t look bad compared to some I’ve seen. However, the owl could have been lying there on the ground for a day or more before it was found, the wing had decayed a little. I think the bird was non-responsive because of having been wounded, and not being found until later.

There was a very small bone slightly broken in the damaged wing, but not a serious enough wound to require the wing being taped up. The bird didn’t require much immediate treatment. My supervisor just examined it thoroughly, gave it some fluids, and I put it in a hospital cage. The hospital cages are the small ones we have inside the main building. There is enough room for the bird or other animal to move around, but only a little.  They don’t have enough space to try and extend their wings, and this is important. We need to keep them in a confined space while they heal.

There’s not much more we can do for the owl except keep it in a clean, safe environment, give it food and water, and hope it heals. I am not sure what chance it has. Small wounds are better than larger ones, generally, but since the owl was in a state of shock or else just exhausted when it was brought in, I don’t have high hopes for it. I do have some hope, though. If it recovers, it will be moved from the hospital cage to one of our outside enclosures where it can fly if it wants. After it recovers further, it will be released.

Most injured animals we treat are later returned to the wild. A few recover for the most part, but have injuries, such as eye damage or a wing that doesn’t heal properly, but are otherwise ok. These animals are illegal for us to release, so we either keep them at the center, or place them in zoos or other nature facilities.

The other owl I helped with is one of our resident non-releasable barn owls. We have 2 resident barn owls. One of them is usually very nice and tame, and is taken to schools and other places for nature presentations. I’ve held him several times during various events, and have often held him out at the center. He’s my favorite resident animal, and is usually quite good to work with.

The other barn owl living permanently at the center is not tame at all and hates people. She is kept because she is a very good surrogate mother to baby barn owls that get brought in every year during the busy time of spring and summer. Also, the wild barn owls that are recovering are put in her cage, and they keep each other company.

This one hurt her wing somehow while living in her enclosure. She can’t fly, but climbs and hops up on perches, and jumps to the lower ones. It is likely she made an uncoordinated jump and landed badly.  Her wing needed to be taped up.

Barn Owls are extraordinarily loud when they want to be!! They can make ear-piercing shrieks when they are mad or really scared or hurt. Today, this one was all three. In the past, I’ve  have had to hold her a few times to bring her into the main building and weigh her. Even when she is not injured, even before I pick her up and bring her as gently as possible inside, before I’ve even touched her at all, she starts shrieking.

I got her out of the hospital cage this afternoon. It was a difficult thing to do. Barn Owls are much lighter and less strong than Great Horned Owls, but they sure can be tough to handle. This owl moves fast, and it was challenging to get a good grip on her feet and bring her out safely. She also bit and bit my hand. If I weren’t wearing those thick gloves, my hands would have been severely mangled.

My supervisor put a head covering on the owl and she calmed down some. Then her wing was taped up, and I put her back. Thus concluded the owl repair for today.

Other owl news.. A screech owl (very small, cute, various shades of grey and black) was brought in some weeks ago. It has recovered, except that it lost an eye. Therefore it is a non-releasable animal. It has become one of our permanent residents. It is not tame yet, but I might be working with it to help it become tame. I do not know if trying to tame it will work. Birds brought in as adults are not nearly as easily tamed as those which are brought in when they are young. The young ones get attached to people easily. This is called imprinting. Adult birds… much more challenging.

We’ve had a kestrel for months now, and I haven’t been working with it much, because it is very unlikely to be tamed. It is non-releasable (the only kind we are allowed to tame and keep) and would be better off in a larger enclosure in a zoo. I think it might soon be put in a much bigger room though, with small trees and some grass. That would be good. I hope they put the little screech owl in there too. Currently, there is only one tiny burrowing owl in that room.

Some birds can be housed together, and some can’t. Kestrels are very small falcons, not much bigger than the screech owls and burrowing owls. For over a year, we had 2 kestrels and one screech owl (all non-releasable) in a room together and they did fine.  We also previously had the burrowing owl sharing its enclosure with another screech owl. That screech owl grew old, and died this past year. Now, we have another. I hope they get put together in that nice larger room. However, at the center, the sensible thing to do is not always the thing that gets done. The head boss makes some decisions that seem rather odd to the rest of us, including my 2 supervisors and the other employees who have been there much longer than I have.

In the same building as the large room with trees, there are 3 other rooms. In one, there is a tame red fox, in another, the recently de-scented skunk, and in the back room dwells our mostly tame raven. He is an interesting bird. Ravens are very smart critters.

I bring him dead mice as a treat during each shift. He likes being visited by people, and sometimes will let us pet him. He also likes dead mice. On Sunday, I some to him, and he buried them in the gravel that makes up the flooring of his cage. He buried one of the mice in a small hole up against a log. He then took a piece of bark and used it as a little door to cover the mice with. I thought that was cool.

After he buried his mice, he became irritated that I was still in his room. I think he was scared I would take back the mice He hopped over to me, making indignant noises, and pulled at my pant leg, and pecked at my shoe, so I left.

Today, I went to visit him and bring him mice. He wasn’t that interested in the mice. I dumped out his large rubber water bowl, and turned on the spigot to refill it. He loved that. He hopped under the water spouting into his bowl and got all wet, and drank some of the water as well. After I turned the spigot off, he played and splashed in his water bowl. Then, he’d hop up on his log and flap his wings and shake himself vigorously to dry off for a few seconds, then hop right back into the water bowl. He did this 7 or 8 times. It was very amusing.

After watching him for awhile, I left that building and headed back to the main one. I did dishes and data entry for the rest of the shift, and left just before dark. I made sure to say goodbye to the kestrel, the screech owl, and the friendly barn owl, which are housed in cages that I pass on the way to my car. The barn owl hopped over to be nearer to where I was standing, made his little chirpy noises to say hello, or in this case, goodbye, and I headed home.

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