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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.