If you’re lying in your bed on Bowen tonight, listen closely. Amidst planes’ droning, the odd siren and end-of-season songbird squabbling, you may hear a soft, eight-note call. You may hear the voice of a young, newly recovered barred owl.
Back in July, a Bowen Islander found the starving owl her backyard. The juvenile bird wasn’t moving.
The islander video-called local bird owner and enthusiast Rebecca Salmon.
“I knew immediately that this little guy was in trouble,” writes Salmon in an email. “Long, slow blinking of the eyes and not moving away from people is never a good sign in a wild bird.”
“I went over to catch the owl. Using a large black table cloth and wearing thick gloves, I covered the bird. The owl did not put up a fight,” she says. “I worried we may be too late to help.”
Salmon brought the bird home and tried to feed him beef and chicken, but he couldn’t swallow. A local falcon owner brought over some quail and Salmon ground up the quail with palm sugar and water to hydrate the ailing creature.
In the meantime, Salmon contacted the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) in Delta. The licensed facility specializes in raptor care and is dedicated to rehabilitating and releasing injured raptors (which include owls).
As it’s illegal to capture, transport, possess, import and export raptors without a permit, contacting the society as soon as one spots a sick or injured bird of prey is important. Once reported to OWL, the bird falls under OWL’s license and an expert will talk you through next steps.
Salmon arranged to bring in the bird the next morning. Overnight, though, she still had the owl in her care.
“I felt his best chance for recovery was to feed him on his usual nocturnal schedule. It was like having a newborn baby,” she says. “I automatically woke up every two hours and fed the baby his quail smoothie.”
The next morning Salmon went to feed the owl and he attacked her.
“That’s when I knew he’d be okay,” she says.
The owl spent the next six weeks in Delta, recovering under the watchful eye of the rehabilitation society experts.
“We were worried about rodenticides,” says Rob Hope, the raptor care manager for the organization. The enzyme-inhibiting poisons meant to kill rats and mice also harm the predators that eat them. So as a precautionary antidote the bird got vitamin K.
After that, treatment was pretty straight forward.
“It was a matter of fattening him up,” says Hope. After the owl put on some weight, the Bowen bird was put in a flight pen with a three other barred owls and some mice.
“With young birds it’s sink or swim,” explains Hope. The organization needed to make sure the owl could hunt for himself as so far in the wild he’d been sinking.
With his newfound strength, the owl swooped around the pen, snacking on mice like he was born to do.
In time for Labour Day weekend, the rehab centre deemed the bird well enough to be set free.
Last Sunday on Mt. Gardner, with an admiring entourage of local ornithology fans, the no longer little owl beat its wings, rising from its carrying box perched on a log and escaped into the wild.
OWL is a non-profit organization. You can donate to their cause online at owlrehab.org/donate/.