Great Horned Owl, © Joan Z. Rough, 2008
It isn't often that we get to see magnificent birds like the Great Horned Owl. After all, they hunt small mammals, up to the size of a rabbit, in the dark of night, after the sun slips over the edge of the world. I tell my cats about owls when they insist upon going out after dark ... which I don't let them do, unless they're bouncing off the walls and are about to make me totally crazy. I tell them that besides cyotes there are BIG birds out there who think small cats are very tasty. It doesn't seem to make a difference when they want out!!
I found this beautiful specimen down by the river as I was walking the dogs late yesterday afternoon. It was being harassed by a flock of crows and a mockingbird, that dove after it trying to drive it away. But alas, the owl had an injured wing and couldn't fly.
After taking the dogs up to house, I grabbed my camera and called the Wildlife Center of Virginia to find out how to help this poor bird. This center is a wonderful place with a staff of veterinarians who doctor and rehabilitate injured
animals so that they can be returned to the wild. They gave me the names of several people who live nearby and do captures of injured animals and also transport them over to the center near Waynesboro. I found Garth Kemper at home, ready to sit down to a dinner of trout. He said he'd be right over. When I suggested I could call someone else on the list so that he could enjoy his dinner, he added he'd go from there to Kalimazoo to help. The trout could wait.
An hour later, Mr. Kemper arrived with a huge cardboard box, some nets and other gear. We went down to where the owl was sitting on a stump. It started to get very nervous as we approached and was strong enough to move about by flapping its wings but little more. We managed to catch him with the nets after he hopped into the cold river .... not a pleasant place for it to be .... boxed him up and Garth drove to the Wildlife Center. I had high hopes for the recovery of this bird.
But we don't always get fairytale endings ... especially when it comes to injured wild animals. When I called the center to inquire about "my" owl just an hour ago, I was told that they put him to sleep last night after discovering he had a detached retina (not good for an owl who depends upon its eyesight in the dark) in addition to a dislocated elbow. The elbow could have been repaired if the he'd been brought in within 12 hours of the injury. The bird was very thin and they felt it had been injured "days" prior to my finding him. Even if they could have fixed the elbow, the detached retina sounded the death nell for this poor bird.
It's very sad, but it's also life. We cannot always save the day for other people or creatures. I've learned over time that we cannot get attached to the outcomes of our prayers. We can only do our best with what we're given and allow what will happen, happen. I'm grateful to people like Garth Kemper and places like the Wildlife Center of Virginia, who go out of their way to help animals in need of medical attention and a temporary home until they can go back into the wild.
At least we kept this owl from suffering too much longer and perhaps from dying a violent death in the jaws of a cyote or some other preditor. May he rest in peace.
Great Horned Owl with injured wing, © Joan Z. Rough, 2008