Monday, November 7, 2011

Bird of prey

This afternoon I was wandering around the shop building at the park, checking on fuel tanks and fire extinguishers, when I saw two large yellow eyes staring at me from the edge of the grass.  I froze in place, and stared back into the face of a beautiful Great Horned Owl.  It was standing on the ground, motionless, its brilliant eyes gazing at me.

I took a step toward it, then another.  It turned its head, spread its wings, and flapped a few steps away before stopping and listing to one side.  Uh-oh.  A great horned owl resting on the ground in the middle of the day is not a good sign.  A great horned owl unable to fly away is very much not a good sign.  Something was wrong.

I went inside the shop and grabbed a large butterfly net and a pair of leather gloves.  Then I went inside the office and found a cardboard box.  Armed with my accoutrements, I went back out and crept quietly closer to the owl, getting within five feet of it before it started to shamble away again.  Gently I eased the net over the owl's head and held it in place.  Then I reached down and picked it up.  A few wing flaps and a half-hearted bite was all the struggle it gave.

I put it inside the box and brought it in the office.  I made a quick phone call to my friend in Granite Falls, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator who works with the Raptor Center at the U of MN in St. Paul and arranged to bring the owl to her house this evening.


Graham decided he wanted to go with me.  We left at 4 pm and got there just as the sky was turning to darkness.  My friend took the owl out of the box and examined it, feeling its pronounced keel bone and spreading its wings.  The bird was painfully thin.  It also objected to having its right wing spread out, which might indicate an injury.  My friend said she would give it an IV this evening and bring it to the Raptor Center for treatment.

One of three things could have caused the bird to become so emaciated and weak.  It could have West Nile virus, which has been killing young hawks and owls (and other birds) since it hit our state a few years ago.  Or, it could be a young male that never learned from its parents how to hunt.  Or, it could have sustained an injury to its wing, which then affected its ability to fly, and thus to hunt.

Staff at the Raptor Center will test it for West Nile.  If the tests are negative, they will try to nurse it back to health.  It might be that the bird is too far gone, too weak to regain its health.  But they will try.  They do wonderful things there at the Center, and I encourage anyone who is interested in birds of prey to check them out.

8 comments:

dr momi said...

I'm impressed that you had a butterfly net and a pair of leather gloves. :-) I hope he doesn't have West Nile.

fullfreezer said...

Impressive. We've got a raptor center near us as well. We're so fortunate to have those places. It would be so sad to find one of those birds and be helpless to help it.
Judy

Karen said...

Please let us know how he does!!! I'm hoping he is okay and released... I really really love raptors...

Mr. H. said...

Good for you for helping the poor bird out...hope it is able to recover.

Carolyn Renee said...

Glad you knew how to get him secured without harm....to him or you! Keep us updated & thank you for the beautiful picture.

Erin said...

What an impressive bird, glad you were able to get it to a rehab place. We had an unusual thing happen the other day, we had a hawk just sitting on the deck railing outside the back door! We have lots of hawks in the air here, but I've never seen one so close to us, I thought maybe it was injured but while we were watching it at the back door it flew off just fine. Strange!

Susan said...

Wow - you are an intrepid woman to capture that owl! Good work.

Jo said...

Carolyn Renee -- I was glad, too!

Erin -- Maybe the hawk was eying your resident doves?

Susan -- Thank you! Coming from Ms. Intrepid herself, that is quite a complement! :)