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Injured owl flies, but not high enough

Article Date: 2004-12-08   Source:   Comments: 0

By Kym Reinstadler

Holland, Michigan, U.S.A. - This is a wildlife story with a happy ending, but not the fairy tale people were hoping for.

Dr. Eric Heitman and Dr. Brian Parkhurst trudged out into a meadow at the Outdoor Discovery Center on Tuesday hoping to release a rehabilitated great horned owl into the wild.

The adult female was so emaciated a month ago, someone was able to pick her up and bring her to Heitman, a veterinarian who is licensed by the Department of Natural Resources to care for injured birds of prey.

Heitman quickly realized why the owl wasn't hunting to feed herself. She was paralyzed in the radial nerve of one wing, an injury brought on by a blunt force trauma.

He treated her with anti-inflammatory medications and fed her mice and rats so she would regain her strength.

The owl's weight quickly improved from 1.6 pounds to 3.3 pounds, the droop in her wing was barely noticeable, and she seemed to have regained her vigor.

Heitman sent the bird to Roger Hower, of Grand Haven, for further rehabilitation, and Hower said the owl's condition seemed to be progressing well enough for Heitman to consider returning her to the wild.

"It's rare to get one back in good enough shape that it's releasable," Heitman said. "Humans can get by quite nicely with a gimp leg or some other ailment, but raptors (or birds of prey) have to be in near perfect condition to survive in the wild."

Only one in 10 owls lives to see its first birthday, said Travis Williams, executive director of the Outdoor Discovery Center. Despite their keen vision and forceful talons, only about one of seven hunts results in a meal, field studies show.

Automobiles probably rank as the leading predator of raptors, which must fly low to pick off rodents hiding in tall vegetation along the highways and byways, said Jamie Krupka, education director.

Parkhurst, a chiropractor who is a master class falconer, tethered the owl and carried her out for the test flight.

She flew, but did not achieve sufficient lift in several attempts. After four or five wing pumps, the owl was back on the ground.

Heitman has treated many birds of prey over the years, but this is the first one with nerve damage. He said he is unsure whether the owl's wing pain might dissipate over a longer convalescence, but planned to consult Dr. Jim Sikarskie, professor of wildlife veterinary medicine at Michigan State University, before deciding whether to schedule another test flight.

If the nerve damage is severe enough the owl would not survive if released, Heitman said he would like for it to become a teaching animal at the Outdoor Discovery Center.

The center currently has five birds of prey: a Gray-Faced Eastern Screech Owl with one eye; and a turkey vulture, Redtail hawk, Red-Faced Eastern Screech Owl, and a type of falcon called an American Cestrel, all of which have wing damage.

Williams said the center's DNR permit allows it to have up to six raptors, so it could accept the owl.

"Being able to release it would be phenomenal," said Parkhurst, who also sits on the Outdoor Discovery Center's board of directors. "Either way, the hard work of Dr. Heitman has paid off. He has saved this bird. She would have a good life as a teaching animal."

Disclaimer: This article has been reproduced from and placed here for comment. is not responsible for the accuracy of any information in this article, and does not necessarily agree with the author's opinions.

Related Articles:
2009-01-23 - Rehabilitated owl released - Holland, Michigan, U.S.A.

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