Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Owl

I got this fabulous story via e-mail from my dear friends Debby and Lou.  Lou wrote the article, Debby took the pictures.  Both volunteer for Lakeside Nature Center in Swope Park, but Debby is the primary worker there.  I've removed the names of the participants but the story of the rescued owl is touching -- and satisfying.  Both Debby and Lou donate an invaluable resource to our city through their efforts at the Center (Debby has twice won their volunteer of the year award).

Here's is Lou's delightful recounting:

I started this email on Monday, June 25th. Please use that as a base date.

About 7:30 last night I was reading a book, John Ringo – thud and blunder military SF, and Debby was playing cards on the PC. An email came in from the duty Friends of Lakeside night calls person looking for someone to go to Liberty, Missouri (20+/- miles away) and pickup an owl reported as ‘down along a fence with a possible broken wing.)

Now the Center in general does not do pickups. We take critters if you will bring them to us. However, raptors are another story. They require special handling since they are dangerous. When injured and cornered, they have a habit of rolling onto their backs and using their feet for defense. Once they ‘foot’ the aggressor, they lock the joints in their feet and hang on. This is most uncomfortable to would be human rescuers.

We left about 8:00 PM with two 3-cell flash lights, two pairs of welder’s gloves, a large cardboard box, a full roll of duct tape, a large bath towel, a medium wool blanket, a large army blanket and our bird first aid kit.

We got to the address about 8:40 and yup, there along the fence was a smallish Barred Owl. The capture plan is to: put on the gloves, throw the smallest cloth item possible over the bird (the blankets should not be used if possible since they weigh enough to possibly smother the bird before it is secure), reach under the blanket and grab the feet, throw off the blanket, secure the wings with your other hand and your body, transfer the bird to the box and close the box.

You have to look closely, but the owl is on the top large branch of the tree almost in the center of the picture. 

As with combat, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Toss the towel onto the bird. The bird crawls between the towel and fence joint and heads right, Grab at the bird, catch a wing –oops, this bird may have a damaged wing – let go the wing and grab a foot, gotcha. Move forward on knees while the other foot is trying to trash the holding glove and grab that second foot, really gotcha. The wings are thrashing like crazy (a good sign of no compound fracture or shoulder injury, and he is trying to bite through a glove thumb.

The box appears, to heck with controlling the wings, put the bird into the box and carefully fold in one wing and then one box flap. Fold in the other wing and the other box flaps. Secure the box flaps. VINCERA! Take a few deep breaths and relax.

All of this time. Debby has been behind and to my right rear wearing another pair of gloves as my backup and has been giving me instructions at various, generally increasing, volumes. Debby knows more about what we are doing but is not as agile as I am so we have a good division of labor. She was the one who supplied the box exactly when it was needed. The couple who called for help stayed safely out of the way. Good folks.

While I moved the box to the truck and it’s AC, 97 out, Debby got the information we need for the check-in log from the couple, explained that a compound fracture, or joint fracture was generally untreatable and the bird would have to be put down, and collected our stuff, She also promised to keep the callers informed of the bird’s progress.

When we got home, we transferred the bird to a larger box, Home Depot medium moving, and fed it some thinly sliced eye of the round with tweezers. It ate three small pieces and refused more. The new box had rolled towels as a nest and a water dish.

This morning we were sitting in the Lakeside lot at 8:00 AM. As folks came in, we found out that the director, scheduled to work, was going to the hospital after having a tick in her ear for five days. The next time I see her, I’ll call her by her new Indian name: Chieftess Ear Tick.

About 9:00, the staff scheduled person came in.  They first had to deal with the citizens’ queue of a fawn, from another county which we are not supposed to take but did anyway because it had infected ulcerated eyes and needed to be put down and was, and a fairly adult rabbit.  She weighed the bird, 711 grams – think 711 raisins -- and gave its wings a check while I held it. This time it footed the palm of one of the gloves. Better the glove than my hand.

She then put the bird into a holding cage until it could be looked at by a more knowledgeable person. We checked back in the afternoon. The director was there, the medicos disagreed about the tick so I am holding off on the Indian name, and she had evaluated the bird and found no problems other that dehydration and lack of food.

Poor little owl -- he really is small. 

When Debby and I looked in on him, he did the normal beak chatter warning. There were two eviscerated mice on his perch. The plan is more tubed water and food for a few days. If not responding as expected, x-rays to check for damage and whatever. If responding okay, a week or two in the flight pens and then release. That will be back where he came from and the actual release will probably be performed by the calling couple.

By his feathers, this bird was hatched this spring. By his small size, he is assumed to be a male. He may even be a ‘brancher’ who has left the nest and is still being fed by mom and dad. He may have run into the fence on his first attempt at flight.

Now it gets ‘interesting’. While we were waiting around, the FOLNC president walked in and told us that she was off to Columbia to be with her mother for a few days. She rehabs skunks at home. She had just brought 17, five inches of body, babies in for the NC to care for while she was gone and she needed help setting them up in a large outside cage. Debby and I assisted. Lug some small sub cages into place, food bowls, water bowls and etc. Finally there were two fairly large plastic tubs containing the babies. Sharon divided the littles between the small cages and we all walked away with only the slightest sniff of eau de skunk.

Now it is Tuesday afternoon. Debby and I went to the center with our camera. The owl is looking a bit better but is still not as much on his feed as expected. More observation and tube feeding is planned.

Two weeks have passed – the main problem appears to have been heat exhaustion.  The owl finally perked up and ate well – and was really nasty and aggressive.  No danger of him imprinting – he doesn’t like humans and he wanted OUT!

It was too hot for a release the first two days it was scheduled – 105 is not good for a bird that suffered from the heat.

Sunday, July 7, was cooler, so that was the big day.  We loaded up the truck and set off to Liberty.  We were a bit apprehensive, because he hadn’t been flying and we might have to borrow a ladder and physically put him on a suitable limb. 

Everything went perfectly!  We were releasing him in the same area he was found in.  The woman who had called wanted to help.  We all carried the cardboard carrier to the woods that border her yard (the bird actually fits into a standard veterinary cardboard carrier).  I set the carrier on its side and the woman who started the process got to open the carrier up.  WHOOSH.  The bird shot out of there like a bat out of hell – and flew up to a branch about 20 feet off the ground.  He then flew to another branch even higher.  He was last seen headed northeast, flying over the trees.

A good day for all.


PS:  He looks huge in the portrait but very small in the tree.  He weighed 711 grams when he came in and 744 grams when he graduated.

1 comment:

Margaret said...

It's wonderful that people do this; I would be terrified! I love owls, but they ARE vicious.