Yesterday evening, I was driving back home from a birding trip, when I spotted an adult Barred Owl on the ground by the roadside. This is not typical behavior for the species. I’d expect the bird to take off and avoid the moderate traffic, but this bird stayed down. I made a U-turn and pulled up by the owl, which was still staying put. I got out, and the bird did not attempt to fly away. That was a major warning sign to me that the owl was not doing well.
The owl was feeling well enough to put on a threat display to try and scare me away. She (I’m going with ‘she’, but I have no idea if I’m right) arched its back, opened her wings, and snapped her beak at me a few times. However, she didn’t try and flee, so I was able to quickly get a blanket over her and transfer her into a box I had in the car.
Once home, I moved her into a comfortable little cat crate, and covered it with a towel for the night. I said a little prayer that she’d last the night, and left her in peace. I was feeling fairly optimistic, since she was using both wings and she was standing and displaying awareness of her surroundings.
This morning, I made some phone calls and ended up bringing her to the University Vet School, where I met a very kind vet who examined her outside the building (they don’t admit wildlife). The owl was pronounced in reasonably good health, with no obvious injuries. She appeared to be fairly well-fed as well, based on the appearance of the sternum. I was surprised to see just how big a Barred Owl’s wingspan was, as she repeatedly whapped the vet in the face during the exam. I’d never had anything to really provide relative scale when I’ve seen them flying, but this morning, the wingspan seemed to be pretty close to my arm length, on an animal about the size of my cat. I held myself back from petting the owl (much as I wanted to bury my fingers in that gorgeous plumage), because I didn’t want to stress her further; but, I couldn’t resist trailing my finger across her beautiful, soft wings once or twice. Soft doesn’t begin to describe it. I wanted to photograph the exam, but I was trying to be available to help if needed, so I didn’t get any good shots.
Our consensus was that the owl appeared to be in sufficient good health to attempt a release. So I waited until it stopped raining and took her back to her patch of woodland. I parked back from the main road, beside a nice looking pasture with some nearby forest and opened up the cage. She looked around a few moments, then launched herself out of the carrier and flew strongly about 80 ft to a tree. There, she sat peering at the strange creature (me) who had helped her out. She appeared comfortable (sort of sleepy, if truth be told), and after watching her a few minutes, I wished her good luck and a happy life, and parted ways.
I was mildly concerned about her right wing, which she seemed to be holding a bit low. But, she appeared to be flying well and the vet didn’t detect any breaks, so maybe she was just holding it oddly for the moment, or perhaps it’s a little stiff. There was no way I could recapture her at this point, so I hope it all works out. I’m pretty sure she’s ok, though.