Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Sick & Injured Owls

Although I'm not a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, I'm kind of the clearing house for injured raptors in southeast Minnesota. Since people know I have an owl, I'm the one they call when they find one in need of help. I pick them up and get them to the closest rehabilitator as soon as possible.

Friday I got a call about an owl standing in the middle of the road just outside of Houston. It was only about 1/2 mile from the Houston Nature Center, so I grabbed a box and headed out right away to check on it.

It was easy to find--there were two cars pulled over on the side of the road and a few people standing beside them. By now the owl was in the grassy ditch...a much safer location.

I wasn't surprised to find a fuzzy owl with fully grown wing feathers--a fledgling. It was a small Great Horned Owl, even for its stage of development. It's not usual to find fledglings on the ground since they leave the nest before they can fly, and they often spend time on the ground, in low branches, or wherever until they get the hang of things--which can take a week or two. Mom and Dad watch them and take care of them at this stage, but many people assume these owls are orphans and pick them up and bring them home. Then I have to tell them to go put the owlet back!!

This owlet was not OK, however. The people watching him said he had been dragging one leg. He was also very thin, judging from the fact that I could easily feel both sides of his keel bone on his breast. (On a healthy owl, you can usually only feel just the leading edge of the bone, not the sides.) So I put him in a box so I could transport him to the rehabilitator.

I've learned not to let Alice see fledgling Great Horned Owls...she thinks she should kill them for whatever reason. Not good.

I took the owlet in to the rehabilitator right away, and got to stay for the exam. Because he was emaciated, he was also very dehydrated. Owls get most of their fluids from their food, so if they aren't eating, they often get dehydrated. He got some intravenous fluids, plus more fluids under the skin. His left foot was just flopping, so he got a ball bandage on that leg, plus some anti-inflammatory and pain medication.

Then Monday I got a call from a neighboring town about an adult Great Horned Owl that couldn't fly. I picked him up (it was a small bird, so I assume it was a male) and took him in right away too. He had to have been sick to get so bad--he was the most emaciated the rehabilitator has ever seen. Instead of being dark/bright pink, his mouth was white, indicating he was most likely very anemic too.

This owl didn't put up much resistance during the exam at all. I kind of expected him to die right on the exam table. But he got his intravenous fluids, then was put back in "the Great Horned Owl" room with the owlet I had brought in Friday and another fledgling Great Horned Owl with a broken leg--this one VERY feisty!!!

I checked in today to see if the adult was still alive. Amazingly, he's still hanging in there! It's hard to believe what Great Horned Owls can live through sometimes. Hopefully he'll pull through. The little ones should be fine, and if all goes well, will be released together.

Just remember....this is the time of year for owls to fledge (leave the nest and learn to fly.) If you see an owl on the ground that has a fuzzy/downy body and head, but fully developed wing and tail feathers, leave it alone unless you're sure it's sick or injured, or both parents are dead. If it's in a dangerous situation, use a towel or jacket to pick it up and move it to a safer situation. It's parents won't reject it just because you've touched it. If you're unsure about the owlet, check back every now and then, or hide yourself completely and make no noise to see if it climbs a tree or the parents are caring for it.

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