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PAWS Mailing Address:
PO Box 1037
Lynnwood WA, 98046

PAWS Street Address:
15305 44th Ave W
Lynnwood, WA 98087

March 2007   

Kevin Mack

Unexpected Collision
by Kevin Mack, PAWS Wildlife Naturalist

On March 3, 2007 I stood on a wooded slope next to a stream along Highway 101 just north of Shelton. To my left a man named Bret was standing next to an empty pet carrier. Up the hill to my right stood PAWS Humane Educator Julie Stonefelt. We were all looking in the direction of a nearby cedar tree.

Screech owl 07-0031 rests in a small cage shortly after her arrival at PAWS.
It was early evening, and the light was fading, but we could just make out a small silhouette on one of the branches near the trunk of the tree. The silhouette could have easily been mistaken for a broken branch had it not been for two uniform ear-like bumps that were sticking up on top of it. Of course, we knew what it was, having just watched the flight that ended with the 8-inch tall silhouette forming on the branch. It was the shadowy form of a well-camouflaged nighttime hunter; a Western Screech Owl who, for the first time in more than six weeks, found herself sitting in the familiar territory of her home.

Although Julie and I had never been to the owl's home, Bret had visited it once before. After dark on January 13, he and a friend had pulled off onto the shoulder of Highway 101 to check a map. As he started to accelerate and pull back out onto the highway there was a loud thump on the passenger side door of his truck. He stopped to investigate and found a badly stunned screech owl lying on the roadside. Presumably, the owl had been diving down at prey when the truck crossed her flight path. Bret scooped the injured bird up and took her to his home in Tacoma. After making several phone calls the next morning, he was referred to PAWS, and on January 15 he dropped the screech owl off at PAWS Wildlife Center.

The owl had suffered a fracture of the left humerus.
Upon admission, the screech owl was assigned the case #07-0031. She was still showing signs of head trauma, and she had a pronounced droop in her left wing. X-rays showed that the bird had broken her left humerus when she collided with the truck. Her wing was wrapped to immobilize the fracture and allow the bone to heal. The owl did not approve.

During the two days following her admission to the center, owl 07-0031 repeatedly removed her bandage. On the morning of her third day in care, the rehabilitators discovered that the owl had pulled her bandage off overnight and had injured herself further when she attempted to use her wing. The sharp end of her fractured humerus had poked through the skin, exposing the bone to the air. Dr. Darlene Deghetto, who regularly fills in for PAWS Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee, treated the injury, placed the end of bone back beneath the skin and put a wrap on the wing that would be much harder to remove. At this point, it was clear that the owl would require surgery for the wing to heal properly.

Dr. Huckabee surgically repaired the owl's wing.
On January 19, Dr. Huckabee performed surgery on screech owl 07-0031. Dr. Huckabee stabilized the humeral fracture with a steel pin and a small piece of wire (known as "circlage wire"). Post-surgical X-rays showed that the broken ends of the bone were in excellent alignment. The wing was re-wrapped with a difficult-to-remove bandage, and the owl finally began to recover.

By January 26, the screech owl's bandage was removed. The external wound caused when the bone punctured the skin had resolved. The fracture site was well stabilized by the metal pin and wire, and the bone seemed to be healing very well. At the beginning of February, the owl was examined by veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Tom Sullivan who determined that she had not suffered any eye damage at the time of her injury. Her prognosis was looking better every day.

Now fully healed, the screech owl sits on a perch in her flight enclosure shortly before release.
On February 6, Dr. Huckabee removed the pin from the owl's humerus. The fracture site was very stable, and the bird seemed to have the full range of motion in her left wing. The following day she was moved to a small outdoor cage, and three days later she was ready to test her newly healed wing in a large flight enclosure.

When owl 07-0031 was placed in the large enclosure, it had been three weeks since she had last flown. It took her some time to regain her stamina, and to condition her newly mended wing. During the first week of her pre-release conditioning, it was readily apparent that her left wing had been injured. It appeared slightly stiff and weak in comparison to her right wing. The owl's flight steadily improved, and by her third week in the flight enclosure she was flying as if her wing had never been broken. Her treatment was complete and it was time for her to resume her life.

When Bret brought screech owl 07-0031 to the wildlife center, he expressed a strong interest in being involved with her eventual release. It felt like the completion of a circle on March 3 when Bret opened the owl's transport carrier and sent her on her first free flight since the two of them had last met. Unlike their first meeting, this time the owl's flight did not end with a sickening thud against a metal door. It ended with a perfect, soft landing on a sheltered cedar branch. The only sounds to be heard were the gurgle of the creek nearby and the occasional passing car on the highway above the slope.

All rights reserved. 2007 Progressive Animal Welfare Society

A Northwest leader in protecting animals since 1967, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) shelters homeless animals, rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife, and empowers people to demonstrate compassion and respect for animals in their daily lives.