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Barn owls get a new lease on life

Article Date: 2006-10-30   Source:   Comments: 3

By Leah Etling

Paso Robles, California, U.S.A. - Ramona Messina found the barn owl sitting oddly on the ground near a riding arena in Creston, barely breathing and unable to fly because of a damaged leg.

Messina said it looked as if the animal was trying to find help. It was out in the midday sun, odd for an owl, and clearly disoriented. X-rays revealed the bird had two pellet gun bullets lodged in its body, requiring surgery and antibiotics to keep it alive.

The owl, now recovering from a life-saving operation in Paso Robles, is just one recent local rescue. During the hot summer months, dozens of young barn owls were taken in by volunteers after falling from overheated nesting boxes.

The birds, California's most pervasive owl species, are becoming among the most commonly rescued wild animals in the North County. There are numerous reasons for the increase, including hot or stormy weather, increased development on formerly open land or, in the case of the owl Messina found, a traumatic incident. Other animals commonly seen by Pacific Wildlife Care are squirrels, deer, hawks, raccoons, bobcats and more.

Pacific Wildlife Care volunteer Donna Skemp, who is taking care of the owl while it recovers, speculates that the owl was shot for sport.

"This is what amazes me. Who would shoot an innocent animal, just out of boredom?" Skemp asked.

Though the barn owls are not endangered, it is illegal in California to shoot any bird that is not a designated game species. Volunteers say they have been seeing a rash of shot birds in the last month, including two hawks and the owl.

Veterinarian Tim Bell of Paso Robles was able to realign the damaged bones in the owl’s right leg. But he said its chances of being reintroduced into the wild will depend on how the healing process goes.

"That’s his tool. That’s how he eats," Bell said. If the shot damaged the nerves, it may be impossible for the owl to be released back into the wild, because he wouldn’t be able to hunt.

Raptor specialist Geri Roberts said that the care network sees the most owls early in the year, when babies are born. Often nesting in palm trees, the young owls, which haven’t yet learned to fly, can fall out of the high branches in heavy winds or other stormy weather.

During the summer months, they face another weather challenge: heat. Trying to escape from hot temperatures inside their nesting boxes, baby owls can tumble out and end up on the ground.

Nesting boxes, useful as the owls’ natural habitat diminishes, are often provided by businesses such as golf courses and vineyards to encourage the owls to live there.

The owls contribute to agriculture through their hunting habits. They can consume as many as 12 mice in one day, or one rat or gopher.

Traditionally, owls live in forest edges, near grasslands.

Their man-made homes are simple structures with a hole in the center that the birds use as a doorway. They must be properly vented so that the owls don’t get too hot.

Messina, who found the injured owl, said the 4-H group she helps oversee will be building a half-dozen of the boxes as a winter project.

"You put up a barn owl box, and they will come. They love our boxes," Roberts said. They should be placed in a shady place, against a tree, barn or other outbuilding.

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.

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On 2006-11-03, logan turner from monroe wrote: "I,m glad you recused that owl great job!"

On 2009-04-21, from california wrote: "I love all birds our pairot flew away because I would not trim it's wings... We have barn owls Wiled ones that live in the palm trees in and around our property ... It is family pleseuar to see them come out in the evening hours Their grace is beyond all.... Save the owls They eat rats ect... better than a cat eh!!!

On 2012-11-26, Claudia Allen from La Jolla Ca wrote: "As I was driving up our lane today, I spotted a barn owl sitting on the ground in the middle of our pasture. He appeared to have his eyes shut....I was so surprised to see an owl during the day!!! Obviously, there was a problem I called a local rescue organization. They instructed me to place a blanket over the owl and place him in abox to contain him The owl had flown or gently glided across the pasture to a grove of eucalyptus....where he could not hold on to the branch....he gently fell to the ground and nestled himself into the fallen leaves. He was laying face down with wings spread....appearing lifeless. But, as he was picked up and placed in the box....he quietly showed signs of life. Bless his soul.....I drove him to Project Wildlife in San Diego .....where they are caring for him/her? Praying for his recovery. I love these birds!!!! What an emotional experience. "

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