That was the call I got early on the evening of August 4 from the manager of a local swimming pool. After a few questions from me about the bird's size, shape, color, and eyes, we determined that this was probably a fledgling eastern screech-owl.
I told the manager to pick up the fledgling gently and place it up in a tree, out of grabbing reach of youngsters and leaping reach of dogs. And if this was not possible, or if he could not pick up the owl to call me back and I'd drive into town to help him. I did not hear back that night, so I assumed all was well.
The phone rang again the following morning. It was another pool employee this time, calling to report that the baby owl was back on the ground. This was no good, so I made plans to stop by to help on my way in to work.
This time of year here in the Midwest, young owls are "branching" out from the nest. During this phase of their lives, the young owls are testing their wings and learning some of the life skills that will sustain them in the future. They are still being fed by the parents at night, however, and I did not want to kidnap an otherwise healthy fledgling just because it seemed like a good idea.
Pulling into the pool facility parking lot, I, and my friends Lisa and Jeff who were visiting from Boston, found two women and a very concerned young boy. The owlet was on the grass beneath a white pine tree.The pine, where the manager had placed the owl the night before, was only slightly larger than the one Charlie Brown puts up for Christmas each year—not really a safe place. Clearly the owl had tried to fly and had ended up grounded again.
Sure enough, it was a young red-morph eastern screech-owl. I crawled under the pine tree and looked it over carefully. It seemed tired but appeared to be physically unharmed. No drooping wings or balance problems, and no blood or mussed feathers that might indicate a car collision or an encounter with a predator.
It would not take the pieces of thawed beef I offered on some long tweezers, so I called the Science Chimp for a phone referral. She confirmed my plan was the wise move—to find the owl's nest cavity if possible and return it there, or, at least to get it up into a larger tree where it would be safe until dark.
I glanced around me for likely trees. There were many smallish deciduous trees in the park surrounding the pool, but none looked likely as the owl's pint of origin. Across the road by the river, large ashes, mulberries, sycamores, oaks, and water maples grew and most of them had cavities where an owl family could live. I felt certain that this little guy or gal had glided across the road from these trees, landed on the ground, and was unable to fly back again. I would return the owl across the road.
The trouble was the entire tree-clad river bank was covered in a vine-y tangle of poison ivy. I walked closer. There was a low-hanging water maple branch with a partial cavity at its base. If I could get the owl there, I'd feel good about its chances of surviving until night when the owlet would emit some begging calls and its parents would likely resume their flights of food.
Poison ivy and I do not get along so swimmingly. I glanced down at my Teva sandals, sockless feet and bare legs (not a great day to wear shorts). There was no way to reach the branch without tip-toeing through the ivy. The pool was not yet open so we had no option to wrap me up mummy-style in towels. I was going to have to dive into the ivy, deliver the owl to its branch, and high-step back out again. Then I was going to have to wash my legs in bleach lest I go into fits of scratching that would make Fleegle from The Banana Splits look pest free.
Just as I was about to scoop up the owl for my mission of mercy, my birding and music pal Steve McCarthy showed up, fully clad in his always-fashionable business-casual attire—including long pants, socks, and normal human shoes. He'd been up the river at the dam looking at the season's first snowy egret.
The owlet in its new, safer roost spot.
I gave careful instructions to the pool gals to watch for the owl for the next few days. I told them its parents would be feeding it and that it should soon be fully flighted and thus better able to avoid ending up back on the ground. They promised to call if they found it again. I never got a call so I'm assuming that all's well that ends well.
Or should it be owls well that ends well....ah, whooo knows.