Thursday, April 17, 2008

Another Day at the Office

Posted by Kirk
I got a phone call a little after 9:00 this morning. Marine Elementary, which is about a 10 minute drive away and one of our partner schools called to say that an owl was caught in their net batting cage at the school. "Is it a big owl I asked?" Yup. Sounded like it was a big owl. I was picturing an owl caught up in the air but luckily they told me it was down on the ground. It could have been tangled since yesterday evening and hanging upside down would be pretty hard on it.

No one there knew what to do and we're the closest people with any experience with raptors. I grabbed a pair of gloves and a raptor toolkit and jumped in my car. When I got to the school I proceeded down the hallway to the back door and I could see the owl through the window in door. Even from about 50 feet away I could immediately tell it was a Great Horned Owl by the size and "horns" raised high. Lucky me. The largest owl in North and South America. Great horned Owls have a 44 inch wingspan and needle sharp talons over an inch long. All of the teachers came out to watch as it was conference day and there were no kids in school.
When I approached the owl it struggled just a little but I think it knew at this point it wasn't getting away. It only hissed once. I did a quick assessment. I'm looking at the bird in the photo above and I have my big blue gloves on. The owl has backed away from the netting a little. The towel on the ground was in case I needed to wrap the owl up to keep it calm while I worked on it or if I had to transport it.

One of the Owl's feet was caught in the netting pretty badly. It had made things worse by struggling. It looked like the bird had gotten a foot though the netting and then caught. Parts of the net were tightly wound around the foot and leg. It probably tried to fly away at some point and did some spinning around. There was about a foot of netting twisted around below the foot and then bird was holding onto that. I could have easily cut this away but my primary concern was not letting the bird go with netting still wrapped around the foot cutting off circulation. This was clearly a gloves off job. I removed the gloves and set to work cutting one strand at a time. I felt along the birds leg to make sure I got them all hiding under the feathers. I couldn't see them so I was going by touch. I didn't look the owl in the eye to help keep it calm but you can see it was staring at me the whole time. There was some abrasion to the foot but not real bad. I added some styptic to the foot to help the wounds heal up but there wasn't any actual bleeding. In the photos above and below I am cutting away at the net. There is a mini van in the background in the lower photo. Word must have gotten out about the owl as there were people in the van watching and there were some neighborhood kids on the playground as well. I was pretty focused on the task at hand so I didn't even notice the kids.

Once I was sure the foot was free of entanglements I was ready to help it let go of the net. I slipped the last few loops off and the owl just laid there not sure what to do. I realized that the owl was going to have trouble getting out. I thought one side of the batting cage was totally open but it turns out there is only a small hole. What are the odds he/she would fly in though that hole? I lifted the net and pulled it back behind the bird so it would have a clear flight out. It sat there for a moment and then took off. It flew a few feet and then did a 180 toward a wetlands to the south. The second it was off the ground it was being chased by crows. A small chorus of cheers from the staff and kids on the playground went up when it flew. It looked like it was flying fine. I was glad I could help it out and glad that I felt comfortable enough to work around the owl since I have the honor of working with raptors at work. Just another day on the job!



Beverly said...

Awesome. How exciting to get to do such a thing...well, and know HOW to do it!

Good for you,

Beverly said...

Crud... I shoulda said "...well, and be able to step up to the plate!" [grinz]

Kirk Mona said...

Bad puns are always appreciated. :)