Miracles do happen at island wildlife shelter | Island Wildlife | Feb. 4

This female barn owl has made a remarkable recovery after being struck by a car and will eventually return to the wild when her wings strengthen.  - Photo by Dottie Tison
This female barn owl has made a remarkable recovery after being struck by a car and will eventually return to the wild when her wings strengthen.
— image credit: Photo by Dottie Tison

The owl wasn’t moving.

She wasn’t flapping, or standing, or swaying her head in the distinctive way barn owls do. In fact, she didn’t seem to be alive. When our wildlife hospital staff admitted this adult barn owl, it was only the trace of a heartbeat that let them know the comatose raptor was still living.

In previous columns, I’ve written about how you can enjoy the wildlife around you. And I’ve written about how you can help wild animals by adjusting your daily routines. This month I want to give you an insight into West Sound Wildlife Shelter’s core work – our wildlife hospital.

Upon intake, we gave the owl a patient number (11-026), which means this owl was the 26th patient admitted in 2011. The owl had been hit by a car. This was apparent from the owl’s injuries and the fact that it was found by a caring couple and their dog on the side of a road in Silverdale.

Each year we take in a substantial number of owls that are hit by cars. It often happens this way: owls hunt rodents; rodents thrive in the grassy shoulders along roads; and there’s no easier place to swoop down and snatch a rodent than off a flat asphalt surface.

Owls are amazingly fine-tuned hunting machines. Once they lock onto a rodent that is running across a road, they’re like heat-seeking missiles. Their senses shut out everything else and focus on that mouse. Patient 11-026 probably never saw or heard the car that hit her.

That violent collision left her with a concussion, a broken leg and plenty of bumps and bruises. She was in a coma when she arrived, and her outlook was not good. Dr. Scott Ford, an avian specialist, delivered fluids into one of her bones (some owl bones are semi-hollow). She didn’t move through the entire process.

Mike Pratt, our director of Wildlife Services, took 11-026 home with him to monitor her through the night. He stayed up with the owl until midnight, hoping for some improvement, but no luck. Things did not look good.

Barn owls are one of the most widely dispersed birds in the world, as well as one of the most revered birds in human cultures. They live on every continent. Their unique, almost human-like faces have fascinated and frightened people for millennia. They are different from all other owls, a fact that’s scientifically noted by their classification in their own family – Tytonidae. Every other owl that lives here is in the Strigidae family.

Imagine Mike’s surprise and relief when he awoke the next morning and found the owl, not only still alive, but lifting her head off the floor of her crate! When Mike tried to give the owl fluids again, back at the shelter, she put up a fight, which was a wonderful sign. From that day on, the owl has continued to improve. Already she has “graduated” from living inside the hospital to being in her own outdoor enclosure.

Best of all, when people come near her, she lets out a blood-curdling scream. Really, there’s nothing like a barn owl scream to give you a jolt of energy; much better than a double-shot espresso. We expect she’ll make a full recovery. She’ll have to remain with us until her broken leg heals (about six weeks).

In the meantime, she’ll continue to receive the best room service of her life – eating as many as five mice a day (neither she nor any of our patients are fed live food).

If you have any interest in learning more about this owl and helping the shelter care for her, you can sponsor her. Sponsorship information is on our website: www.westsoundwildlife.org. In return for your sponsorship, when she is released, we’ll send you a photo of her along with a fuller description of her time with us.

Our wildlife hospital is the only facility of its kind in the western Puget Sound. If you ever find an injured, orphaned, or sick wild animal, please call us. We’re not able to save the life of every patient, but we try as hard as we can. Every wild life is a life worth saving.

Kol Medina is executive director of West Sound Wildlife Shelter.

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