A Tragic Sight To See – A Barn Owl Caught on Barb Wire

/, Beaverhead County, Birds, Centennial Valley, Montana/A Tragic Sight To See – A Barn Owl Caught on Barb Wire

A Barn Owl caught on barb wireA Barn Owl caught on barb wire – Nikon D810, f8, 1/1000, ISO 500, Nikkor 500mm VR with 1.4x TC, natural light, not baited

Yesterday morning I saw a sight that made me ill to see and that is a Barn Owl hung up on a barb wire fence on the south side of the Centennial Valley. I’ve never seen a Barn Owl here before and both range maps I checked said they are rare to this area so to see one in such a predicament was shocking and gut wrenching. I could see that the owl was alive and then it moved some.

As soon as we saw it Ron and I stopped, took a few images and then hurried over to where the Barn Owl was to try to get it untangled from the barb wire. I hoped it would be easy to get the owl free but it wasn’t. We knew we had to be careful for the owl and for us. We both had gloves so that helped and we had a few tools. The wire cutters were dull though and it made it very hard to cut through the barbed wire. I held the owl’s feet and talons while Ron tried to cut that damn wire. We probably spent 45 minutes trying to get it free and when we did there was still a 9 to 12 inch section of barbed wire attached to the owl’s wing. We wrapped the owl in a towel to see if we could get that section out without hurting the owl any more than it already was. All that time the owl opened its bill but did not attempt to bite either of us though it did get a good grip on Ron’s glove. I can’t get over how light the owl was while I was holding it away from the wire cutters.

We figured at that point we would wrap the owl up and head to where we could get a cell signal to try and locate a rescue or rehab group and take the owl to them. We would have driven any where at that point to save the owl.

We noticed a car was coming from the east and when it slowed down and stopped it was so amazing that it was Bill West, the manger of Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge!

There could not have been a better person to show up on that lonely stretch of road than Bill with his wealth of experience. Ron and Bill were able to remove the wire from the Barn Owl’s wing and then we wrapped the owl up in Bill’s jacket. Bill had been heading to Dillon for a meeting but he said he guessed his plans had changed. He took the owl and headed towards I-15 and said when he got a cell signal he would send someone from the refuge to repair the fence.

Later in the day we found out that Bill was going to turn the owl over to the Humane Society in Dillon who would then drive up and meet the people from the Montana Raptor Conservation Center in Whitehall who then took it to Bozeman.

After rescuing the owl from the barb wire all I could think about was the owl and how I hoped it would make it. It was so amazing to see a Barn Owl that close, to hold it and see into those ebony eyes. But the circumstances made me want to cry.

This makes two owls I have seen hung up on barb wire, a Burrowing Owl in Utah and the Barn Owl here in Montana plus I once saw a bat caught up in barb wire in the Centennial Valley too. Can I say LOUD enough that I hate barb wire?

You just never know what you will see when you are out taking photos of birds. I’m glad Ron and I found the Barn Owl, we just hope it survives the trauma and lives. Hopefully we will find out that it did and if we do we will update everyone on the Barn Owl’s progress.

Life is good. It can also be sad and perplexing but still good.


*The Barn Owl was rehabilitated and released on September 30 near the Lower Lake at Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. Happy ending!


  1. Deborah September 13, 2015 at 11:04 pm

    Thank you Mia and Ron and Bill.
    A heartbreaking sight to see just in the photo. I can’t imagine how devastating it was to actually see this beautiful creature is such torment and distress.
    I am so glad y’all were in the right place at the right time!
    Also so glad y’all were able to get ALL the wire off! What a real blessing.
    Take care out there,
    Deborah Flowers

  2. Ilze Long September 12, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    Heartbreaking. Hope he survives. Why is the wire there anyway? Cattle?

  3. Charlotte (Prairie Birder) September 10, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    So glad to hear the owl is doing well — Good work Mia and Ron!!! A couple of years ago, I found a Short-eared Owl caught up on a power line, but unfortunately the story didn’t have a happy ending.

  4. Humming Bird Lover September 10, 2015 at 6:56 pm

    Hello u-2
    Honey how sad! but I am so glad you and Ron were sent by a unknown reason to be there at the right time to Save my favorite kind of bird!! Also that Bill was sent also! It will live because of three special angels for the Owl! Have a great trip love mom

  5. Grace Dunklee Cohen September 10, 2015 at 2:38 pm

    How fortunate for the owl that you and Ron came along when you did, Mia! Both my sister and I have come across birds that met a horrible death from becoming tangled in fishing line. She found an osprey dangling from a tall pine in Maine, and I discovered the remains of a snowy egret while exploring a rookery on Florida’s gulf coast. Trapped and helpless is a terrible way for these majestic birds to die. Thanks to you, Ron, and Bill West, this beautiful owl was spared a horrific, untimely demise.

  6. Elephant's Child September 10, 2015 at 1:06 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. And Ron. And Bill. I am so very glad to read the update, and hope the owl continues to improve.

  7. Neil Rossmiller September 10, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Mia, I’ve posted a link to this post, along with Ron’s, in the NPN forums. Hope you don’t mind.

    • Mia McPherson September 10, 2015 at 12:14 pm

      Not all all Neil, thank you!

  8. Mary September 10, 2015 at 11:01 am

    THANK YOU!! for saving this little guy / gal! Looking forward to updates!!

  9. Mia McPherson September 10, 2015 at 10:55 am

    Update: The Barn Owl is holding his own at the Montana Raptor Conservation Center in Bozeman

  10. Nicole Haller-Wilson September 10, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Agony… They are immensely beautiful creatures… I found one dead on the side of the road once and took it to a rescue group that apparently can use feathers from dead birds to repair wings of injured creatures…. Something to do with superglue… It is heart wrenching

  11. Beth September 10, 2015 at 9:37 am

    My coming upon your website with breathtaking photography came about a year or so ago. I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I did!
    Today, I thank you and Ron, Bill and beyond, for the compassionate action you took so willingly, so without hesitation, to help that poor barn owl caught up in barbed wire. There are beautiful souls out there, kindred spirits with nature. Beautiful, just beautiful. Thank you.

  12. Alan Kearney September 10, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Luckiest day of that owls life, having the two of you come by and start the rescue! Great to have someone willing to go 80/160? miles out of their way for this beautiful animal, I certainly hope it makes it! I know nothing of the nature of owls in general, or specifically how well they handle trauma?

    Thank you for the wonderful efforts!

  13. Utahbooklover September 10, 2015 at 9:15 am

    We humans do make it difficult for wildlife on the whole but thankfully not all humans.

  14. Susan Stone September 10, 2015 at 9:06 am

    I join everyone else in gratitude for what you and Ron did for this poor owl. Glad to hear it made it to safety, and I hope for excellent recovery for it. Looking forward to hearing about a happy ending for this beautiful bird.

  15. Patty Chadwick September 10, 2015 at 8:06 am

    I almost didn’t open your blog either, but did after opening Ron’s first,by mistake…I remember too damned well the dead, hung up, Burrowing Owl. I HATE! HATE! HATE that GD, effing Devil’s Wire so GD much!!! I wish those who install it were stripped naked, wrapped in it, and very, VERY slowly rolled down a LONG, LONG,LONG hill….Thank god you were able to save this one…this time…..

  16. Cindy September 10, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Bless you both for saving this magnificent owl. A tragedy that turned out well for everyone. Animals seem to know when we are trying to help. Beautiful owl, beautiful photo with a happy ending.

  17. Neil Rossmiller September 10, 2015 at 7:01 am

    I held you two in high esteem before, but WOW! There isn’t a pedestal tall enough. Bird heroes forever IMHO!

  18. Don Weber September 10, 2015 at 6:54 am

    Thank you for helping the Barn Owl off the barbed wire fence! We also encountered a Saw-whet owl on a barbed wire fence during a winter bird count. It was also a very sick feeling to see such a beautiful raptor entangled in a fence… Barbed wire also presents a serious challenge to migrating animals; especially if there is a strand 18 inches from the ground.

  19. Nancy Wagner September 10, 2015 at 6:48 am

    Oh, Mia, what an incredible story – thank you for taking so much time to help that beautiful owl. Wow, I have a tear in my eye that you guys cared so much. I hope the rest of your trip results in lots of great photos and positive wildlife experiences.

  20. Bob Mcpherson September 10, 2015 at 6:03 am

    Bird lovers everywhere are indeed in your gratitude. What examples you set for the rest of us is incredible. My personal thanks for
    taking the time to care for this owl. They are indeed a favorite species.
    Beautiful photos also.

  21. Mia McPherson September 10, 2015 at 5:18 am

    Update: The Barn Owl made it to Bozeman by noon yesterday.

  22. Vicki Rogerson September 10, 2015 at 5:16 am

    I am extremely grateful for your efforts, and to all those who will play a role in giving this owl a chance. I sure hope there is a happy ending to this story.

  23. Kei September 10, 2015 at 4:48 am

    Thank goodness you saw this little guy and were able to help him_her! Yes, please keep us posted and I totally echo your sentiment…barbed wire (and razor! wire) is awful and, imo, should be banned! Way too dangerous to wildlife.

Comments are closed.