Sunday, May 22, 2005

Great Horned Owl Protection Bill Passes Senate

The bill to remove Great Horned Owls from Minnesota's "unprotected birds" list passed the Senate on Friday, May 20 with a vote of 62-0! Add this unanimous vote to the House's unanimous vote, and I think we can be pretty well assured the governor will sign the bill, which is the final step in the process.

I didn't think anything happened unanimously anymore....!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Talon Care

Most people probably don't give talons a whole lot of thought--other than they're really sharp things to be avoided. But there are maintenance issues that need to be addressed when an owl is in captivity.

Talons grow continuously, just like our toenails. But they grow to a nice sharp point. They are self-sharpening, so if they are blunted for any reason, as they grow they will self-sharpen.

In the wild, owl talons are subjected to a lot. They're used for killing animals almost every day, they rub on all kinds of surfaces from bark to rock, and they're exposed to sun, rain, heat, cold, and all the environmental extremes. This keeps them in good shape.

In captivity, (especially in our house!!) Alice's talons don't get the wear they would in the wild, so they get overgrown unless we do some regular maintenance on them.

Every month or two I use a dog toenail trimmer to trim off the tips of Alice's talons. This keeps them the proper length. If they get too long, her toes twist and turn when she tries to stand flat-footed. Trimming blunts the tips of the talons (bonus for us, and it doesn't hurt Alice since she's not a hunter.) It doesn't take long for those talons to get sharp again, though.

Last night I trimmed Alice's talons. She doesn't like this, so while I'm trying to snip off the proper amount, she's figuring out which perch she can hop/fly to next to get away from me. Plus she pretty much continuously hoots because she hates the whole affair.

Alice's hind two talons on each foot really need some work. Her front talons are used to hold her food as she eats it every night and usually wind up in her water bowl when she gets her daily drink of water. This repeated wetting/drying keeps them in better shape. Her hind talons aren't often exposed to water, since she thinks bathing once every few weeks is great plenty.

Alice also really doesn't like it when I try to get around her to trim her hind talons. As a result, they've gotten a little overgrown and thick. Last night I was finally able to trim them down to a better length, but they're still thick.

Talons flake and peel as they grow. (Older birds often have flaky talons.) One or two of Alice's hind talons are flaking pretty good, which is a good sign--they're naturally thinning themselves down. I try to scratch away at the white, flaky stuff, but my fingernails aren't much of a match for her talons. We're going to have to take a dremmel to them when we cope (trim) her beak soon (also done with a dremmel.)

Not fun stuff, but it's a necessary part of living with an owl....

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.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Great Horned Owl Bill Passes Minnesota House

The Minnesota House of Representatives voted on HF419, a bill to remove Great Horned Owls from Minnesota's "unprotected birds" list, on Monday, May 9. It passed unanimously, 134-0!!

The following is what "Session Daily", reporting news from the House of Representatives, had to say:

Game and Fish
Give a hoot, change the statute Published (5/9/2005)
Alice the great horned owl may have fewer sleepless days, under a bill that unanimously passed the House.
HF419, sponsored by Rep. Ray Cox (R-Northfield), would remove the great horned owl from the state’s unprotected bird list. It aims to clarify the protected status of great horned owls in Minnesota.
The measure now moves to the Senate, where Sen. Thomas M. Neuville (R-Northfield) is the sponsor.
Currently, great horned owls appear on Minnesota’s unprotected birds list, along with such avian cousins as sparrows, blackbirds and pigeons.
Great horned owls are, however, protected under the federal Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
Alice’s handler, Houston Nature Center Naturalist Karla Kinstler, testified in committee that the classification is causing confusion among conservation officers.
Audio & Video:Watch the floor session
Here's hoping all goes well in the Senate too!