Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The Great Horned Owl popsicle chase

Cindy at Bird TLC received a call at the clinic from Dorothy in Portage. She and her husband were walking their dog and the dog discovered a great horned owl in the bushes. She said it seemed to have an injured wing, won't fly and didn't like them being around. She thinks it might have flown into a power line. Could we come and get it?

Cindy knows that my wife Ruth and I will respond to calls if at all possible. Portage is about an hours drive from Anchorage where we live. It's snowing for the first time in a week after having spring weather for a few days with everything melting and re-freezing. The roads are slicker than goose poop in a greased frying pan. Sure, we'll go.

Dorothy's directions were right on. Go to mile marker 81 and park at the turn out. Follow the railroad tracks about 1/4 mile towards Girdwood and it's by some water next to the tracks. She was right on the money. It was right were she said it was.

Now it's +28°F with a wind chill of +8°F. The winds are at 10 mph and it's snowing horizontally. I got my polypropylene skivies on and Ruthies bundled up like the little boy on "A Christmas Story" and the GHO doesn't want to go for a van ride. Ruthie caught it with her blanket but he was able to wiggle free and ran across the partially frozen pond.

Ruthie goes back up the railroad tracks and crosses over to the other side. I stayed where we were in case it ran back across. It was the smart owl. It only ran half way across. It's weight didn't effect the partially frozen water like ours would have. So from my side I shook my blanket at it and yelled. It turned and hissed, then ran over to Ruthies side. This time she got a hold of it and held on. She had a good hold of it's feet and it had a good hold of her mittens. However, it was able to shake the blanket off of its head. Ruthie and the owl are now eye to eye and I don't know who's eyes were bigger.

Ruthie wasn't letting go and the owl couldn't go any where's. So we decided she walk back towards the van and I would meet her where the water stopped. She looked like she was carrying a GHO popsicle. Once she got to the end of the water, I was able to cover the owl up completely with a blanket. We got back to the van with frozen faces and adrenaline racing. We placed it in a carrier, covered it up with a blanket and back to Anchorage we head.

As we got closer to Anchorage the worse the road conditions got. However, we made it round trip with owl pick up in two and a half hours. When we got to the clinic, Cindy started to exam the bird but stopped. It had a bad case of feather lice. I mean bad. We sprayed it down and placed him in a indoor mew until the spray took effect. It's hard to examine a bird when there's little crawling things now crawling over you.

The next day, Cindy did a full exam and decided to take x-rays of it's right wing. Bad news, his wrist has multiple fractures. So it was put in a wing wrap hoping it might hold it together. If not, we're looking at amputation. Any which way, it's not going to be able to be released. It's too bad we have to end this story without a release, but we do have a live bird. Thanks to Dorothy for calling this one into us.


Rexroth's Daughter said...

What a great and exciting bird rescue. It is too bad about the fracture and the prognosis. I hope you post more pictures of this GHO. They are such impressive creatures to see.

Dave said...

Thanks RD. Will do. They are cool.

TroutGrrrl said...

Brave, brave people...

Dave said...

Nah! We just like birds.

Clare said...

Nice recovery Dave, it gives people a better understanding of what it's like actually having to capture the bird before the medical help can even get started. Many people have an idea that you walk up, pick up the bird, and take it to the centre. I know I did before I had my first footchase with a hurt Raven, who, when finally captured, discovered he liked the taste of my flesh. Great job.

And BTW, goose poop in a greased frying pan? I'm not even going to ask how you know how slippery that is.

Pamela Martin said...

I second Troutgrrrl's commendation on your bravery. Wow! Takes some nerve to grab hold of a great-horned owl against its will. I am glad that there are people like you and Ruth willing and able to do it. Thanks.

p.s. your weather button is showing -1C as I write--Alaska! Warm or what!!??!

Dave said...

Well Pamela, I don't recommend someone trying to pick one up that's not experienced. We do have a few permanent marks to show for that experience.

We are having strange weather. It's been varying anywhere's from +20° to the low 30's.

Your right Clare. If you can walk up to them and pick them up, chances are they are hurt real bad.

Ravens have been the most challenging. They are so intellegent and fast runners / hoppers.

Gwyn said...

Oh my, it's such a shame that it won't be able to fly free, but good that you two were brave enough to rescue it.

Dave said...

It is a shame Gwyn. But it is recovering well and will make an excellent education bird.