Sunday, July 30, 2006


It was bound to happen sooner or later. It just happened later than sooner. After having Alice for nearly eight years, she finally footed me.

"Footed" is the term used when someone is grabbed by a hawk or owl's talons, usually doing some damage in the process. Alice has certainly grabbed me with her talons before, but it's never been with the intention of hurting me. This time there was some intention and some damage.

Alice and I work "second shift" on Saturdays, leaving for work at the Houston Nature Center around noon. Owls are birds of routine, and Alice has one particular perch that I'm allowed to pick her up from to take her to work. If she's on any other perch in her room, I have to pretend like I'm trying to pick her up, she gets annoyed, and sooner or later she jumps/flies to the appropriate perch.

Yesterday Alice was snoozing on her nest basket when it was time to leave for work at noon. She doesn't like stepping forward, just stepping backward, so I put my gloved left hand behind her. She got agitated and looked like she was going to hop to another side of her basket, so I put my ungloved right hand behind her. I've done this a million times.

This time she pounced on my right arm and nailed it. It involved talons and beak, but happened so fast I can't even remember where she went from my arm, but I think it was to the correct perch.

Absolutely stunned, I immediately saw why Alice had attacked me: she had a big, fat, juicy, gopher head cached in the back of her nest. My right hand was headed straight towards it when she footed me.

Since Alice was now in position and I wasn't really bleeding, I picked her up on my glove and headed downstairs to put her leash on. (She always hops onto my husband's kitchen chair for this procedure.)

When she was on the chair, I inspected my arm. One talon cut on the forearm and one of the back of my hand, neither bleeding (plus some skin missing on my thumb from her beak). Not good, since if the talons went in much at all, punctures like this can get infected. I squeezed some blood out, washed the cuts with soap and water, hit them with some rubbing alcohol, then bandaged them up so I didn't get blood on my clothes. And off we went to work.

Soon I noticed my hand didn't want to work as well as it should. Oddly enough, the area just forward of the cut on my hand was swollen (not where the talon went in), and was tender. So I assume that even though the talon only left a very small hole, it went into the muscle a ways.

Three hours later I was peeling a grapefruit with my pocket knife and sliced my thumb on the same hand. About then I was ready to go home and start the day over. Jeepers!

My hand is still swollen today, but my forearm is fine. I'll be watching my hand for any signs of infection. This is just one of the hazards of working with owls that was bound to happen sooner or later. I'm surprised it wasn't an injured wild owl that got me first. I guess I need to keep closer tabs on those gopher heads!

In the photo you'll notice the (non-Alice) scrape on my left hand before you notice the very minor looking mark on my right hand and the swelling. The talon mark is on the back of my right hand below my first and second fingers. Looks pretty insignificant, other than the swelling....

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