Cell phone pictures of injured fledgling Short-eared Owl ©Star Mitchell
Yesterday I planned to stay home to try to get caught up on the many things that are on my plate and to stay out of the heat but unbeknownst to me that plan was going to change at 6:31 in the morning and that I would soon be on a rescue mission. I received a text message from friend Star Mitchell who lives up in Box Elder County with two photos attached of an injured fledgling Short-eared Owl that needed to be rescued. I went from I’m not in a hurry stay at home mode to get your rear in gear mode in one second flat.
I could tell that the young Short-eared Owl had a wing injury from the photos but I didn’t know how bad it was or even when the bird sustained the injury, I just knew it needed help and fast. I assume the injuries were caused by a vehicle strike.
I contacted my friend Neil Paprocki who works at HawkWatch International to find out if he knew of anyone in that area that could get to the fledgling Short-eared Owl before I could get there then I put out a message on Facebook asking if any of my northern Utah friends were in the Golden Spike area.
I quickly took my shower, found a box that would be suitable to use to transport the Short-eared Owl fledgling, found some gloves to use to protect myself from sharp talons and an equally sharp beak, grabbed a towel to wrap the owl in while capturing it and once I saw that because of the early hour no one had responded to my message on Facebook or Neil’s contacts I was out the door by about 7:30 am heading north knowing I had a 90 mile drive ahead of me.
Transporting the injured Short-eared Owl fledgling
On the drive I wondered if I would even be able to relocate the fledgling owl, worried about how bad its injuries were and my concern grew as I drove along the Wasatch Mountains on I-15 that the young owl might make its way back out into the road, even though its wing was injured I knew it could still be mobile and could walk towards the road. I wanted to drive 90 mph but somehow managed to keep my Jeep moving at a reasonable speed. (Your definition of “reasonable” may be different than mine.)
I’ve rescued birds before in Florida, Montana and Utah but those were birds that I found while I was already out in the field, this was different, it was trying to relocate an injured bird that could still get around all the while knowing that the sooner I could get the owl to rehab the better its chances might be for survival and also knowing that if and when I relocated it the owl may have succumbed to its injuries before I could get to it. So many things went through my mind on that 90 mile drive.
Once I was at the location where the injured fledgling owl was reported to be I did have some trouble locating it, I parked the Jeep on the side of the road and walked the fence line looking for it then realized from the photo I was sent that I was looking on the wrong side of the road so I went to the other side and looked for it there some times driving slowly and looking out the window and sometimes walking the fence line. I kept hoping that I wouldn’t find it on the other side of the fence because that is private property with “no trespassing” signs and I really didn’t want to worry about violating the property owners wishes to get the owl the help it needed. I sure would have though.
I saw an adult male Short-eared Owl perched on one of the wooden fence posts about 50 feet from where I was and figured it might be the parent of the injured owl so I drove the Jeep very slowly along the shoulder of the road but still couldn’t see the fledgling so I turned heading towards the east, parked the Jeep, got out and walked the fence line again and finally saw the young owl tangled up in a tumbleweed in a shallow ditch-like area, I couldn’t see its face just its splayed out wings and at that moment I thought it might be dead and my gut knotted up but as I got closer to it I could see its bright yellow eyes and hear it clacking its bill in alarm. It was alive and other than its injured wing looked relatively healthy.
I walked about 25 feet back to my Jeep, opened the hatch, got the box ready for the young owl, put on my gloves and a hat to protect my head in case the adult owl decided to dive at me to defend its young and picked up the towel to wrap the fledgling in. If you cover their faces it calms them a bit.
These young owls are so light when you pick them up, I always expect them to weigh more than they do but it kind of feels like picking up feathered air. I could tell the fledgling was ticked off but I knew that once I got it into the box and closed it up that it would calm down. I took a few cell phone pictures, placed the box and owl up on the front floorboard of the passenger side of the Jeep, called Neil, let him know I relocated the owl and that I would be heading towards WRCNU (Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah) in Ogden.
WRCNU had taken care of and rehabilitated Galileo, another Short-eared Owl fledgling that I helped to rescue two years ago who had gotten injured while tangled in a barbed wire fence. Galileo couldn’t be released, now he is an education bird at HawkWatch International and is a great bird Ambassador.
As I drove towards Ogden I could occasionally hear the fledgling clacking it bill and hearing that the owl was still feisty somehow gave me hope that it was going to be okay.
Rescued injured Short-eared Owl fledgling
I got to WRCNU safely and walked in with the owl fledgling in the box and handed him over to the staff. After all I had done yesterday morning it felt somewhat anti-climatic at that moment but I was also relieved that the young owl was in very capable hands and that it might get a second chance to fly free and wild again.
I drove home thinking about that young owl’s eyes looking up at me as I picked it up from the tumbleweed.
I was given a case number for the fledgling Short-eared Owl and was told I could call them between 1 and 4 pm to check on the owl after their initial assessment. At around 2 pm I called and I was told that it the fledgling had sustained a severe compound fracture of the upper wing and to make matters worse the tissue and bone at the area of the fracture were dry which meant it had been a while since the owl had been injured and the bone below the fracture might be dead due to the lack of blood flow. Also the chances for infection goes up the longer the tissue and bone are exposed. If an amputation of the wing has to be done having the injury so high up on the wing isn’t the best situation.
The Vet hadn’t yet seen the fledgling so I was told to call back at around 5 pm to find out what the Vet ‘s recommendation was for the young Short-eared Owl. At that point I knew euthanasia might be considered because of the severity of the owl’s injuries.
I had rescued a Northern Gannet in 2009 in Florida that whose injuries were so bad that it had to be euthanized and I recalled how I felt when I learned that the young gannet couldn’t be saved. I even looked at the photo I took of it right before it was taken to rehab. I feel connected to the birds I have rescued, maybe that is a good thing, maybe it is a bad thing on occasion but for me it just “is” and that it sometimes hurts to care as much as I do for birds and wildlife.
I called WRCNU back at 4:40 pm to find out what the Vet recommended as I was asked to do but the person who answered the phone wouldn’t put the call through even though I explained I had been told to call back at that time. I have to say that it was upsetting and disappointing for me to have been asked to call back and then to be told that I’d have to call back today between 1 and 4 pm, that their check up hours are strict. I hope the person I spoke to initially about this owl’s health condition doesn’t think I didn’t care enough to call back because I did and do.
Please don’t get me wrong, WRCNU does spectacular work with injured birds and animals and I appreciate everything they do and I know that they are super busy at this time of the year. I was told I could call back just before 5 pm though and I did.
So while I wish I could end this post with more information about the condition of the injured fledgling Short-eared Owl that I rescued yesterday, I can’t. It may have already been euthanized, I just don’t know.