An injured Barn Owl
Submitted to The Owl Pages by email.
Hello, I live in Casa Grande, Arizona. That is half way between Phoenix and Tucson. I am so glad I found someone who is interested in seeing a photo of "My Owl" as well as my "Story." (Obviously, she isn't MY owl. But, for lack of a name,that's how I refer to her.)
Her chest and belly were solid white with all mature feathers. I listened to some owl sounds and believe this is a female. So, here is the picture and here is my story. I hope you enjoy them.
On Thursday evening, June 1st around 8:30 PM, I went outside to water the grapes. When I was turning on the water, I heard a horrible screeching/crying sound over and over again. It was coming from the vacant lot behind my house. As my eyes tried to search the darkness of the field, I could not see anything but shadows of weeds created by the one and only street lamp. I continued to listen for several minutes. The screeching noises got louder and more frequent. "What was out there?" I wondered. Knowing it was an animal of some kind, and assuming it was a bird of sorts, I decided to try to find it.
I went back into the house and got my trusty $2.00 flashlight and returned to the edge of the vacant lot. As I began to carefully walk towards the noise, I scanned the area in front of me with my flashlight. Suddenly, about four feet in front of me, a large bird flew from the ground up into one of the tall palm trees at the edge of the street. She let out a horrible scream that vibrated my insides. I turned my flashlight towards the tree top, but it would not shine brightly enough for me to see the bird. As suddenly as she flew into the palms, she took off and flew across the street landing on the telephone wire. Now I could that it was a very large bird, but it was impossible to identify. As I slowly neared the palm tree to get a better view of her, she fell from the wire dropping to the ground like a stone.
I stood there, stunned by what I had seen. I didn't know what to do. Should I go see it? Should I go back home? What should I do? My heart was sinking into my stomach while I contemplated my choices. I shinned my flashlight on the ground in the area where the big bird landed. Two glowing red eyes reflected in the light and glared back at me. I cautiously took a few steps towards those eyes never taking my light away from them.
As I tiptoed closer and closer, a sudden shrill filled my ears. Goose bumps instantly covered my arms and the muscles in my neck tightened. I must have made some kind of shriek myself because the red eyes disappeared into the bushes. Getting just a glimpse of a cat scurrying away, I hoped that she had not killed the fallen bird. I moved my light around on the ground and there she was. A huge bird lying on her back. The talons on her claws were immense. I kneeled down next to her to get a closer look. One of her claws was bent backwards and appeared to be caught somehow in her wing. I could see that she was breathing, but her eyes were closed.
Oh, my. What was I to do? I couldn't just leave her there to be killed by the neighbourhood cats. I couldn't take her home. How could I help her? As thoughts raced through my head, I realised I was reaching my hand out to her. I put down my light and gently turned her over. She opened her eyes and slowly turned her head 180 degrees and looked at me. I was initially stunned. I then realised that this was an owl. A beautiful owl with a white face and golden brown feathers accented with white spots. She managed to get both claws under her, but her left wing was still sticking out with the front section of it all the way in front of her.
I began telling her she was beautiful and she would be okay. She allowed me to stroke her head and then her back. The sound of my voice and the gently stroking must have reassured her that I was trying to help. I cupped my hands around her body and cautiously moved her left wing back to is rightful place. She never made a sound. Instead, she gradually closed her eyes. I still knew that I could not just leave her there. It was obvious she could not defend herself, or escape the dangers that waited in the nearby bushes. Almost frantic, I searched the area for a safe place for her. Nothing but vacant lots, bushes, and thirty foot palm trees. There was no other alternative but to take her home and call someone for help.
There in the darkness I found about an eight inch round plastic grated cover of some kind. Yes, that would do just fine. I retrieved it quickly and set it on the ground next to the owl. Again, I began talking softly to her while stroking her back. I gradually cupped my hands around her, picked her up, and set her on the piece of plastic and waited to see what she would do. After a minute or so without any visible objections being made by the owl, I placed my right hand over her back to stabilise her, and picked her up by the piece of plastic with my other hand. She opened her eyes as I raised her. I wondered if she would try to bite me or escape this rescue attempt. She did neither. She sat still and watched as I carried her to the house. When we got to the patio, I lowered her to the ground and placed her where I could keep my eyes on her while I telephoned someone for help. She closed her eyes and seemed to relax as she fell asleep.
I looked around my yard to make sure there were no cats in the immediate area. Once I decided she was in a temporarily safe place, I left her to make a call. As I leafed through the phone directory, I kept a watchful eye on the owl. Ultimately, I called the local police department's non-emergency number and explained to the dispatcher that I found an injured owl and need some help. After answering her questions, she agreed to contact animal control and assured me that someone would respond as soon as they could. I took a deep sigh of relief and returned to the owl's side.
During the hour of waiting for animal control to arrive, a light bulb came on in my head. My new digital camera! Yes, I'll take a picture of her to show everyone how beautiful she is. I got my camera and lined her up in my view finder. Oh, no. I wish I would have practiced taking some pictures with this camera so I would be sure to get a good one. I had placed her in the shadows of the archway and I feared it was too dark there to take a picture. Moving her again was just not an option as she had been through so much already. So, I talked to her until she opened her eyes. Click! I took her picture. The flash worked, but I don't think she liked it. One picture would have to do.
Headlights from a truck were coming slowing down the street. It was the animal control truck. It stopped in front of my house and a woman's voice asked, "Is this where the owl is?" I quickly responded, "Yes. He's right here." She parked the truck and walked to the patio. I excitedly began telling her of the events that lead to the owl being on my patio. She was amazed that she allowed me to handle her. She said they are dangerous because of their large talons. "You know," she said, "they use their talons to kill their prey and can tear up human flesh, as well." I had no defences to use and could only say, "Yes, I know."
She went to her truck and returned with a heavy bath towel and a pair of long, thick leather gloves. As she started to put on the gloves that covered her entire arms, I told her she didn't need those. "I will put her in the cage," I said. "She will let me do that." She agreed and watched as I began to talk to her softly and stoke her beautiful feathers. As before, I slowly placed my hand over her back to steady her and picked up the plastic tray she was still sitting on. Carefully, I carried her to the truck and placed her in the cage centred in the bed of the truck. As she closed the cage door, she told me that I was one of the very few people that had ever touched one of these owls, and she was amazed at how she allowed me to do this repeatedly. I beamed with pride, but became overwhelmed with grief just thinking that I had turned this owl over to the "dog catcher."
Tears started to burn my eyes as I refused to blink and allow them to trickle down my cheeks. I hesitantly asked, "What is going to happen to her?" She sensed the fear behind my question and explained how there is a vet in town who donates her time to help wildlife. He will treat the injuries and care for her until she is well. If the owl can be returned to the wild, she will be set free. If an assessment is made that determines she cannot survive in the wild, the owl will be transferred to a wildlife park north of Phoenix. Once there, she will be able to live with the care and help she needs to survive.
I learned a lot that night. I learned that there is no money to pay someone to help with the rescue of our wildlife in the Casa Grande area. If it were not for people who volunteer their time and talent, like the off-duty animal control person who came to the rescue and the unnamed veterinarian who provides medical care, wildlife animals would not have a chance once they were injured. To have found a young adult owl in distress and experienced the pleasure and joy of helping her, I learned that I am the lucky one.
I later contacted Animal Control. The lady gave me the name of the animal hospital she took the owl to. I called the animal hospital and was told that they had seven owls! Can you imagine such a thing? The lady said that five baby owls were blown out of their nest. Another had a broken leg. And then there was mine.
The vet took X-Rays and did not find any broken bones. He was puzzled about this considering the events of that dreadful night. He speculated that perhaps she had been hit in the head because she did not object to being handled. (He thought she was knocked senseless, I guess!) So, he cared for her for five days at the animal hospital. As soon as she regained her "common sense" and seemed to be doing okay, she was sent to a rehabilitation facility for wild birds to continue her recuperation.
The rehab caretaker stated that she was now eating normally and did not appear to have a problem flying. They planed to release her back into the wild at the end of the next week. It looks like we will never know what caused her to fall to the ground before my eyes. I'm glad I was there and was able to find the right person to help her.
The release of the owl happened without incident. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the event. It occurred on Monday night, July 17, 2000, from the Wildlife Refuge in North Phoenix. I must admit that it was extremely difficult to get any information about her. There was a lot of confusion as to which owl I was interested in knowing about. Apparently, there was close to forty owls that were rescued and sent to the refuge for rehabilitation and release during that time. Nine of those owls were from Casa Grande. I find that fact to be amazing! Five of those were babies who fell to the ground when their nest was blown out of a palm tree.
So, although I was not there, she was set free with many others. I stand outside in the darkness of night and watch for her to return. Occasionally, screeches come from the surrounding area, but she remains illusive and free.