Keeping Our Heads Above Water...
We hope you have been staying warm and dry as you weather the recent storms. The rain, while welcome, has definitely been intense at times! Despite the storms, we continue to prepare for the arrival of Baby Bird Season and are delighted to report we have a cadre of new volunteers in training to help with the onslaught of baby birds we expect to start arriving very soon.
This is Why We Do It
This beautiful Barn Owl was lucky to be spotted as she lay injured on the street near an intersection in Petaluma. A deceased rodent lay ominously beside her. The finder rushed her to BRC, where an exam revealed multiple areas of bruising, including within the mouth, and a skull fracture.
All of the evidence pointed to her having been hit by a car while hunting, a potentially deadly risk many raptors face as they become so focused on their prey they are oblivious to the dangers of traffic on the road around them.
All our patients receive regular examinations to assess how well they are recovering. However, when treating injuries like a fractured skull, it is imperative we reduce any risk of further skull damage, which means no touching the head for a minimum of two weeks to allow the skull time to callus and heal.
After making sure our Barn Owl was stabilized and eating well, we took the added precaution of housing her in a soft, coroplast box to ensure she didn't cause herself any further damage while moving around.
Barn owls are a nocturnal species, meaning they generally prefer to hunt and eat after the sun has set. So it was a great surprise to find our patient had a voracious appetite in the morning. This meant we could place her morning medications in with her food and avoid having to handle her. She happily swallowed everything whole!
The first two weeks saw remarkable improvement. She was once again a lively predator, physically stable, and quite happy to eat, sometimes within just moments of being offered food. Obviously, the stress of being hospitalized had done nothing to diminish her appetite! Even better, when we were able to safely re-assess the skull fracture, we found it completely solid once again!
It was now time to move this gal into an outdoor mew, a spacious raptor enclosure fitted with its own owl box, branches and bath pan. Within the first week of exploring her new digs, we discovered a mysterious new injury: a small, perfectly round, perfectly clean and already nearly healed puncture along her spine. It was curious considering there was nothing obvious within her mew that could account for it. And stranger still was the location of the injury. She would have had to somehow back up or fall with some force against something sharp and protruding to cause it.
There was, however, one other possible cause: perhaps during the original injury, a small foreign object became lodged in her body during impact. Avian skin is very elastic and resilient and can close over small injuries in just hours, effectively hiding the original surface wound. Over time, as the body begins to heal and recognizes the object as foreign, birds have the ability to "wall off" debris and push it to the surface, eventually expelling it from the body.
Happily, after suturing the puncture, the wound healed rapidly without any further complications.
With all her injuries resolved, it was time to test our patient's flight capabilities and hunting skills in preparation for release. Using our protected flight hallway, we were able to confirm she had excellent coordination, strength and stamina. And having proven herself time and time again to be an eager feeder, no one was surprised when she succeeded in hunting live prey within just a few hours! Barn Owls are famous for their adept mousing instincts and this gal showed she was more than ready to get back to her environmentally friendly pest control career!
On the first of March, Raptor Rehabilitation and Release Coordinator Danielle met with the finder to release this beautiful owl about a mile out from where she had been found, nearly lifeless, just one month prior. It turns out the finder had once been a BRC volunteer himself, making this experience of being a part of both the rescue and release especially rewarding.
The night was clear and still, the location intentionally far from the road, buried within the wilderness and surrounded by open fields. We watched as the owl lit off into the starry night, leaving behind the many human lives she had touched. Hopefully that will be her last close encounter with humans.