Monday, September 17, 2007

Born-Again Barn Owls (Bird No Longer In Hand)

Monday, September 17, 2007
Born-again Bird Watcher John Riutta graciously offers a post about the human-bird interface for our mini-carnival. He rocks. Check out his wonderful birding blog!

As Bill of the Birds is away and beyond the range of computer access (if such a state of being is truly possible these days), I volunteered to help out with the posting. So, taking a moment away from my own site, Born Again Bird Watcher, I thought I'd offer a few remembrances of a recent owl release I attended with my mother and daughter in northwest Oregon.

Not so very long ago, four young Barn Owls were brought into the Audubon Society of Portland Wildlife Care Center. Due to the special circumstaces of each owl's case, they were not able to be returned to their respective nests.

The first two owls were rescued from the Oregon Highway 99 West bridge that spans the Tualatin River. They had become entangled in fishing line and were found in their nest on the underside of the bridge. Suffering from injuries to the legs and feet, they were brought in to the care center in fairly serious condition. (Sadly, one young owl's injuries were much worse that the other's and it did not survive very long.)

The third young owl was found in a nest inside of a bale of hay that was delivered to a local hay processing plant. As is all-to-common in cases of Barn Owls found in transported hay bales, by the time the owl was discovered its place of origin was not able to be traced so it could not be returned to its parents.

The fourth owl was found orphaned, weak, and very thin in a Milwaukie, Oregon, industrial area. How it came to be in this condition remains a mystery.

So on a warm and windy Sunday evening, a small number of Audubon members, owl enthusiasts, and the merely curious who lived in the neighborhood, gathered at the Center for Research in Environmental Sciences & Technologies in Wilsonville, Oregon for the purpose of returning these three rehabilitated owls back to the wild whence they came.

Despite arriving at the release site in oversized restaurant take-out boxes, the owls were in hight spirits and quite eager to get back into their natural habitat (the reason the CREST facility was chosen was for its proximity to many working farms and their associated epynomous outbuildings).

However before taking their first wild flight, there were the obligatory poses for the teeming paparazzi (OK, one other lady with a camera and myself, but we were doing our very best to teem). Deb Sheaffer, DVM and Wildlife Care Center Operations Manager, did her best to position the owls for us to record for posterity.

For a few brief seconds, each owl displayed a moment of calm. Perhaps using its extraordinary directional hearing to take in all the sounds and activity surrounding it; perhaps pondering its next move.

However no one was in doubt that these owls were keen to "get the show in the air." So without further ado, the lucky three attendees who were selected to act as official releasers took up their owls one by one and gave them what is hoped will be their final human physical contact with a slight boost up to the sky.

When each owl mounted to the sky, there was a collective cheer, then a sigh, and then a palpable silence as we all stood in rapt admiration of the grace and beauty of these creatures. Regardless of each of our faith traditions, I think it is safe to say that we all offered our own little prayers in our own ways for each of their safety.

Two final points. First, a shameless plug for the organization responsible for the care and return of these magnificent owls to the wild. The Portland Audubon Society Wildlife Care Center is Oregon's oldest and busiest wildlife rehabilitation facility. Each year the center treats over 3,500 injured wild animals, including these owls who learned to hunt and to fly in the center's 100 x 30 foot flight cage. The center is run by the equivalent of three full-time staff and over 100 volunteers. It is almost completely donation funded.

Second, a member of the previously noted "posterity" for which so much of this type of work is done and for whom I drove forty-five miles through late summer returning-from-the-beach Sunday evening freeway traffic in order that she might be able to see this event up close, to most firmly imprint it upon her heart.

My daughter Elizabeth. May she and her generation always know a sky where owls and their kin still fly free so that they may do their best to preserve and protect them for their children as well.

Peace and good bird watching.


On September 17, 2007 at 6:27 AM Jayne said...

What a wonderful post! What sweet sweet faces on these guys and how rewarding it must feel to release them back into the wild.

On September 17, 2007 at 10:16 AM Rondeau Ric said...

I like shameless plugs.

I have not seen a wild barn owl, it would be wonderful to see one released.

On September 17, 2007 at 4:29 PM Sara said...

Bravo ! What a marvelous story. Continued good birding to you and Elizabeth.

On September 17, 2007 at 8:29 PM KatDoc said...

Awesome! I love the close-up of that Barnie's apple-wedge face. The coolest of the owls, they are rare around me. Love to see people helping them out.