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Net Serve

by Kevin Mack - PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

Birds make flight look effortless. They are seemingly as comfortable suspended in the air as we are with our feet planted solidly on the ground. But just as we must learn to crawl before we can walk, many of our feathered friends must pass through an awkward transition stage on their way to graceful flight. Learning to fly has always been a dangerous business, but it has become even more so with the ever-increasing influence of humans on the landscape. Often what seems benign to us ends up being the bane of our wild neighbors. Such was the case with a young Great Horned Owl who arrived at PAWS on June 25 after having an unfortunate run-in with a common, everyday tennis net.

I don't know the exact course of the events that preceded the owl's difficulties, but I can make an educated guess. He was young and inexperienced and had not been flying for long. He was probably just starting to venture short distances away from his nest tree to explore his home on Tiger Mountain. He became either tired or curious and went in for a landing on a tennis court at a remote retreat. Whether he crashed into the net on the way down or on his way back up I can't say, but whatever the case the owl became badly entangled. He was eventually rescued by a caring individual from a nearby veterinary clinic who then drove him to PAWS Wildlife Center.

Fortunately the owl was not seriously injured during his entanglement in the net, but he had been quite shaken up by his harrowing experience. He had even lost one of his namesake ear tufts during his struggles to free himself. His left foot was weaker than his right, possibly due to overexertion in the net, and he seemed sore and stiff all over. After a few days of cage rest during which he seemed to fully recover, we moved the owl to an outdoor aviary cage. He spent the following three weeks honing his flying and hunting skills, losing what remained of his youthful downy feathers, and re-growing his missing "horn". He now looked much more like a "flying tiger," which is what Great Horned Owls are sometimes called. On July 27, it was time for the flying tiger to return to Tiger Mountain.

A small group of well-wishers gathered on the edge of the forest to witness the owl's release. Kathy, the woman who had rescued the owl from the tennis net, opened the carrier door, and everyone held their breath as we waited for the guest of honor to appear. As is sometimes the case with animal releases, the owl was hesitant to exchange the known confines of the carrier with the unknown that was waiting outside the door. I approached the carrier from the rear and peeked through an opening on the side to check on the bird. Upon seeing my eyes, the owl quickly and audibly exhaled. The hiss-like gesture was meant as a threat, but the owl did not wait for my response. He exited the carrier and flew strongly up into the forest. As the owl landed on a branch in a large fir tree, all stress seemed to melt away from his body. After pausing for a minute to assess his surroundings, he took flight once more and disappeared among the shadows of the trees.

Great Horned Owl upon arrival at PAWS Wildlife Center
When the owl arrived at PAWS on June 25, he was disheveled and missing one of his ear tufts.

Great Horned Owl after recovering
By the time he was ready for release, the owl had regained his “great horned” appearance.

Be A Part of the Story!

If you enjoy the stories you read in Wild Again, imagine how much more you would enjoy them knowing that you personally made them possible. The 19th annual PAWSwalk will be held on Saturday, September 11, 2010. The PAWS staff and volunteer team has a set a fundraising goal of $15,000 this year toward the overall event goal of $200,000. You can help us reach our goal by sponsoring me or any other PAWS team member you wish to sponsor. Whether you can give one dollar or 1,000, all of the money will help us continue to perform the lifesaving work that we do here at PAWS. Thank you for reading Wild Again, and for your continued support.


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