Joe was somewhat wary when he called. He’d had a large bird fly into the side of his pickup on the way back from the airport Monday night, and had gone back the next afternoon to try to locate it. “It’s an owl, and he’s just sitting there on the side of the road. Do you think you could catch it? I hate for it to just die out there!”
I done my duty and informed him that, actually, the law is that we were supposed to leave it there to die. Matter of fact, we weren’t even supposed to put the poor thing out of its misery – legally, we were to let it die slowly and painfully.
Having done my duty, I then declared, “Heck, yeah! Let’s go get him!”
To cover ourselves, Joe called the late Dr. Richard Griffin, a nearby veterinarian, who had one of those Federal Animal Rehabilitation Licenses. “Bring him on,” he invited. “I’m the only vet around who will fool with these things – and I’m the only vet around who is allergic to feathers!” He agreed with me, however, that recovery was unlikely.
Cage and heavy gloves at hand, Joe drove us to a lonely stretch of woods and parked. “He’s somewhere close, if he’s still alive,” he declared. I quickly spied a half-grown barred owl sitting down in the ditch by a stand of ragweeds. He didn’t protest as I donned gloves and gently lifted him up and into the two-milk-crate cage we fashioned.
Dr. Griffin pronounced him apparently unbroken, as far as wings, legs, and keel were concerned. His left eye was cloudy, slightly bloody, and he seemed sore on his right wing and side, nipping at my hand as I stroked him on the right. The vet prescribed a week of antibiotics, and asked us to bring him some owl food. Chicken livers and gizzards to start with, then live mice or lizards later. “Set your traps now,” he advised.
A week later, Stoney was recovering enough to be released to our care here at Brownspur. Since we’ve raised or rehabbed (under Dr. Griffin’s supervision) two full-grown hawks, a great horned owl, and five screech owls, in addition to a dozen possums, half a dozen coons, shrews, snakes, and many other critters, we had experience. Son Adam and I made Stoney comfortable in a larger cage, and thawed venison to feed him. Then dove season opened, and we saved all the hearts and gizzards for him. He loved the gizzards!
Like all the other injured birds we’ve nursed, Stoney seemed to instinctively know that we weren’t going to hurt him. Though he’d pop his beak threateningly, we’ve raised enough owls to realize this was but a part of owl language. The only one to get hurt was me, naturally. When I transferred him to the smaller cage to go to the Swimming Hole with me one afternoon, one of his toes slid between my ring and finger, and I didn’t know it until I tried to put him down, and apparently bent his toe. An owl’s toe is actually a talon, and when he flexed it, it went all the way to the bone. My finger bone, we’re talking! I bled like a stuck hog, slid my ring off, and went for the iodine and a bandaid. Stoney seemed contrite when I returned and we went to swim.
This was his favorite time of day. I’d set his cage on a stool, so that just the top of the brick he stood on was out of the water. He’d drink his fill, and stare fixedly at the hummingbirds working the trumpet vine flowers at poolside. Right at dusk, the dragonfly nymphs would hover nearby, and I’d catch some to feed him. Joe would come visit, as would Jim and the neighbors, bringing dove gizzards.
Adam discovered his love for being stroked. We’d gently scratch him on the back of the neck, and he’d close his eyes and begin to tilt his head straight back, until he was actually looking the opposite way! We knew an owl could turn his head completely around from either side, but didn’t know they could do it going “over the top.” If he’d been a cat, he’d have purred when we did that for him.
We intended to release him that Sunday afternoon three weeks later, and had alerted Joe, Richard, and the neighbors, but Stoney had his own agenda. As I was feeding him that morning, he dropped a piece of venison, and when I reached down to the bottom of the cage to pick it up, he sprang past me to freedom. He flapped across the patio to light on the antlers hanging from the Store (our guesthouse) porch, swung there for a few minutes, then flew to the bay magnolia. From there he soared to the top of the cypress, and that’s where he was when I left for Sunday school, thankful to have hosted him.