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Injured Great Horned Owl Response

Last Friday morning, ORI intern and Social Media Coordinator Brooklin Hunt received a call regarding a potentially-injured owl on a roadway near her home. “The poor guy is just sitting in the middle of a road in a puddle of water. He won’t even move,”, the caller explained, “I’m worried he will get ran over!”. Recognizing this as unusual owl behavior, Brooklin hurried to the scene with hopes to move the owl to safety.

Sure enough, the owl - a Great Horned Owl - was injured: the right pupil was severely damaged, several tail feathers were missing, the bird was soaking wet and just seemed to be having a hard time holding on. On top of it all, the owl was very docile; owls are wild creatures, and a healthy one will fight to get away from a person’s grasp. After surveying all of this, Brooklin moved the owl off of the road and into a quiet field, then called ORI researcher Matt Larson for advice. It was concluded that Matt would pick up the owl and deliver it to staff members of Wild Skies Raptor Center in Potomac, Montana.

Although Brooklin did her best to keep the owl comfortable and calm, and Matt did come to pick the bird up, the rescued owl passed away during its ride to Potomac. This story has a very sad ending, but it is a great reminder to citizens on what they should do if they encounter an injured owl. Here are some good steps to take if you ever find an injured owl:

STEP 1: Assess the situation. Could the owl be in danger? This owl was in a very dangerous area - the middle of a busy dirt road! Does it appear to be hurt? In our story, the citizen who found the owl was unsure as to if the bird was hurt, but figured it was best to call the ORI since it wouldn’t move from the road.

Also, remember to keep your own safety in mind. Use caution and keep your eyes peeled for anything that might hurt you, including the owl! The average grip strength of a Great Horned Owl, like the one in this story, is 28 pounds (12.7 kilograms). With such force, the owl could break carpal (hand) bones or puncture skin and deep flesh. One or two little mistakes, and it might cost you a finger -or more- even if the owl looks cute, innocent, and fluffy. Although the ORI is a promoter of citizens helping wildlife (specifically owls), we also want you to be safe. Please keep your distance if you cross paths with an injured owl!!!

STEP 2: Call a local expert! In most of the United States, you can call your local Fish, Wildlife & Parks(FWP) office for assistance in finding a professional to handle the case of an injured owl. There are trained professionals to deal with such instances. The ORI only operates in Western Montana, therefore we are unable to handle cases of injured owls that are in other locations. This is why we recommend you call FWP instead of us.

STEP 3: Consider staying on the scene until an expert arrives. Only stay on the scene if it is safe to do so. The caller who reported the injured Great Horned Owl in this story stayed at the scene until Brooklin arrived simply to ensure that the owl would not be run over. However, if it is storming outside or on a busy highway, it may not be safe for you to stick around, as it was in this case. If you cannot stay at the scene, do not worry! The experts will still find their way to the owl, as they will have asked you for the location of the bird.

STEP 4: Let the experts do their job. Although some experts may ask for and/or appreciate your assistance, it can be difficult to work with an owl if you are not experienced. Ask the expert for permission before jumping in to help care for the owl. In many cases, reporting the owl’s condition and location will be as much assistance as the experts need. Know that those simple actions are highly appreciated by the experts (and probably the owl itself, too… you might have saved its life!).

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