Sunday, February 5, 2017

Rescuing a Long-eared Owl

I was looking for raptors in some of my favorite winter birding locations a couple of weeks ago when I noticed several ravens gathered around something that appeared half buried in deep snow near the road ahead.  The ravens flew from the scene as my truck approached so I naturally wondered what caused the them to gather at that particular spot. I glanced sideways as I drove by at normal speed and was quite surprised when I realized I was making eye contact with a Long-eared Owl. The image of a petite owl face with those long "ear" tufts is still visible in my mind's eye weeks after the encounter.  I drove to where I could make a u-turn and then returned to the owl's location.  A gentleman in another vehicle pulled up next to the owl right in front of me. It turned out that he had discovered the owl earlier. He had made some calls to ask friends what he should do. They advised him to wrap the owl in a blanket and take it to a wildlife rescue faciliy so he had just returned from buying an inexpensive fleece blanket at a local store.

As I assessed the situation I figured the owl must have collided with a car or clipped a nearby barbed wire fence as it was hunting or flying low to the ground the night before. Long-eared Owls are generally nocturnal. However, the harsh winter conditions with heavy snowfall we'd been experiencing may have forced the owl to hunt during twilight hours in order to consume enough food. It's difficult to determine how long the owl had been injured.  I captured a few images of the owl before actually attempting to secure it in the blanket.  It became apparent that the bird's left wing had suffered a major injury near the wrist.  You can see some blood at the wrist of the bird's left wing below.

The owl began snapping its bill as I approached so I knew it was feeling threatened. We gently covered the owl's head with the blanket to help keep it calm. I then tucked and wrapped the wings to secure them. I left the blanket loose enough to allow the owl to breath comfortably. Once secured I put the owl in the floorboard on the passenger's side of my Tacoma.

I called my wife to let her know I had an injured Long-eared Owl in tow and was going to take it to Great Basin Wildlife Rescue in Mapleton, Utah. My Saturday morning errands took a back seat to the owl in the front seat, so to speak.

Soon after arriving at Great Basin I assisted the rehabilitator with some triage care. She checked the owl's crop and general condition. Beyond the injured wing, the owl appeared to be healthy. We gave the owl some meat combined with an anti-inflammatory.

I continued to hold the owl in my left hand as the rehabilitator cleaned the wound area. I captured some video of this process with my phone in my right hand. Be sure to watch the video in HD for best resolution.

Finally, the injured wing was wrapped to prevent movement that might result in further injury.

I began to have a real interest in the owl's healing process after helping with the initial care. I imagined how thrilling it would be to release the owl back into the wild once it had healed sufficiently.

The rehabilitator told me she would arrange for a veterinarian to do an x-ray to determine whether or not the wound could be effectively treated. If the break was in the joint it would likely mean the bird would never fly. And because Long-eared Owl's have more of a wild, high-strung temperament than many other raptors they do not make good candidates for educational birds. They do not like to be handled and get anxious when approached by humans so they don't make good candidates for a static display--they'd likely get anxious and agitated each time someone tried to feed them. In other words, if the bird cannot fly and live on its own it would likely end up being euthanized. That is not the outcome anyone wants for such an amazing creature.

I took one last photo with my phone and then placed the bird inside a kennel with hopes of seeing it again in a healthier state.

About a week after taking the owl in for treatment I was in Montreal, Quebec on a business trip. I made a call to check on the owl's condition and was excited to learn that only a single bone was broken and that there was hope the bird would be able to recover and fly again. I was told to check back in another week to see how things were healing. I'm looking forward to that next check up.


  1. What a beautiful owl and amazing thing you did...your story was a really nice read....your a good man Jeff☺

    1. Thank you, Allen, for dropping a note. I am glad you enjoyed the post.