This morning I had an extraordinary encounter with a barred owl. I would be very interested in getting feedback on whether people thought I did the right thing.

I live in Columbia and commute down highway 63 to my office in Jefferson City every morning. As I was driving down 63 about 7:15 am. this morning at my usual 70 miles per hour I noticed what appeared to be a flattened mass of feathers with a bump on the shoulder of the road about 3 feet from the wheels of the oncoming traffic. I immediately felt my usual rush of sadness and anger to see a raptor smashed on the side of the road after an encounter with traffic. However, as I zipped by this time I saw the bump in the middle of the mass of feathers swivel around - and I saw two eyes watching me as passed. The Bird was a Barred Owl. It was alive, but was probably seriously injured. I drove on debating what to do. Finally, I decided that my conscious would not let me simply drive to work without at least checking to see if the bird was safe. So, I turned around, drove back up the highway and drove back to where the bird was still sitting by the highway. The only motion that I could observe is its head moving back and forth as cars approached and sped by at 70+ mph.

I sat in my car for a few minutes watching the bird from a distance and debating what to do. I was worried that if I got out of the car the owl would be scared and fly into oncoming traffic. On the other hand, I could see that the owl was so close to the oncoming traffic that it could be easily sucked into the traffic lane and killed by an oncoming vehicle. Every time a car zipped past its feathers were jostled by the wind. I tried to call the raptor rehab project and the Dept of Conservation on my cell phone, but it was before 8 am and I could not get an answer. I was would be late to work, so I had to decide what to do. So, I debated 3 choices:

  a.. I could do nothing in the hopes that the bird would recover and it would fly away. That had the advantage that the bird would remain in its territory. However, I decided against this option because I did not know how badly the bird may have been injured and it clearly was at risk of being hit by an oncoming car at any minute.
  b.. I could pick up the bird and move it into the grass by the side of the road where it was out of danger from being hit by oncoming traffic. Again, that would keep the bird in its territory. However I decided against that option. I was worried that the owl would fall victim to a roving cat, dog or other creature. I also did not like the idea of letting the bird die in the grass at the side of the road if the raptor rehab project could nurse it back to health.
  c.. Finally, I could pick it up and see if i could get some help. that is what I did.

I gently covered the bird with my coat, picked it up and carried it to my car. It did not struggle, protest or even click its beak at me. I put it in the back of my car and pulled the hatchback cover over luggage area so the bird had a quiet and relatively dark place to stay. I drove to work, called the RRP and waited for a couple of hours. No response from them so i called the Dept of Conservation and they said they would send an agent to pick up the bird. While I was waiting I checked on the bird every half hour or so. It was still alive, but it did not move. I expected it to be dead of some type of internal injury each time checked on her.

The conservation agent showed up at about 10:30. I asked him if i had done the right thing. He said yes. When he took the bird out of the car, she seemed to be a new animal. She was alert, snapping her beak flapping her wings and grabbing onto my coat with her talons. The agent managed to get her safely out of my car and into a carrier. An hour or so later he called and told me that he had taken the owl to a safe location away from the city to see if she was able to fly away. He took her out of the carrier and put her on the ground. After a minute or two she got up and flew about 50 yards into the top of a tree.

my assessment was that the bird had flown into a car while hunting by the side of the road and was stunned by the blow. It is my hope that allowing her to rest in a safe, dark location for a few hours enabled her to recover.

She was very large and very beautiful. I hope I did the right thing. I am worried that she may have a nest and/or mate and will be unable to return.

One of my staff snapped a photo of the owl in the animal carrier with her cell phone when the conservation agent picked up the bird. if anyone is interested I will forward a copy.

Mark Gutchen
Columbia, MO

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