Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Screech Owl Rescue

One should always be alert for birds because you NEVER know when you might find one.

We all have our daily routine and daily drives to and from work. Over time you can get a knowledge of what birds you should be seeing during a certain day in a certain time of year. Having only heard one Barred Owl in my neighborhood in 13 years any owl sighting would be unusual.

So, imagine the surprise when I almost ran one down on a nice, sunny morning on the way to work.

As I approached a familiar curve leading through a quiet, bricked street neighborhood I noticed a 'pile' of gray right where the road began to turn to the left. The car ahead of me drifted to the right as it took the curve and went around the mass.

I decided I would straddle it and adjusted my direction to make sure no wheels ran over what I believed to be dead squirrel. I was approaching quickly and almost upon it and began to grasp the wheel to follow the curve and then...

...a head swiveled around toward me and blinked a weary eye.

I hit the breaks quickly, my bumper stopping just short of the owl. I looked in the rearview mirror and found, to my surprise, that there was no traffic coming up behind me. Usually, this stretch of road is fairly busy. No one was behind me for a good mile or more.

I backed up and threw the gears into park and jumped out to assess the situation. The owl looked a bit battered and seemed to have sustained a bump on the head. Its eyes took turns trying to open as I got closer and tried to figure the best way to get it out of harms way. Mockingbirds started to buzz the owl.

I moved it closer to the curb with my foot, knowing that a well placed grab with a talon could do some serious damage to my fingers. It flapped slightly but didn't seem to want to fly. I finally grasped the bird from behind and moved it up onto the grass and farther from the street.

Traffic began to approach so I jumped back into the car and quickly began to circle the block, looking for a place to park so I could get back and see what else I could do for the owl. I managed to stop a couple blocks away and parked, grabbed the camera, and hurried over to the scene.

A man who lived across the corner had seen me move the owl and came over to check it out. Another man walking his dog joined him and they were watching to owl as birds continued to shriek and buzz it. We said our hellos and I kneeled down to get a shot of our new patient.

If I could ever imagine cartoon stars circling and injured animal's head, this was the poor fella.

Screech Owl

It had clicked its bill as I moved it earlier but never opened an eye wider than that. There was a small wound on the top of the owl's head just behind the right eye. There was a little blood but nothing life-threatening. As we discussed whether we should get it to a place for care another Screech Owl appeared across the street. I headed over to see if it, too, was injured but it flew up into the oaks where it was quickly mobbed by Mockingbirds, Blue Jays, and Fish Crows.

The newer owl didn't seem to mind the din and held firm about 40 feet above the street watching us and the hurt bird. Was it a mate? I had first thought the bird in the street was a young owl but changed my mind after a closer look and decided it was, indeed, a grown Screech Owl. A mate seemed to be a logical conclusion.

After thinking it over, especially after seeing the other owl join in, I determined that the best course of action would be to take the dazed owl across the street closer to the watching owl and find it a more secluded shelter so that the worried, mobbing birds wouldn't disturb it.

I picked up the owl, waited for a clearing in traffic and walked it across the street to a clearing in a group of plants. I was happy to see that once I released it this time it seemed to perk up for once. I grabbed one more photo before heading out back to work. I would stop by later to check on its progress.

Screech Owl

I called the local bird sanctuary and they thought I did the right thing and it should be alright after a rest. Later that afternoon, I stopped by to see how things were. Unlike the morning, the air was quiet. Both of the owls were gone. I will assume that the bird rested and flew off to have a happy life.

So, the next time you see something in the road be sure to avoid hitting it. You never know when it might just turn and stare at you!

For a sightly larger view of these images and a couple more Screech Owls, click here.

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