Almost every autumn, WildCare admits one or two Great Horned Owls that have gotten tangled in soccer nets.
This happens to young birds that are still developing their hunting skills. The inexperienced owl will see prey on an open soccer field and swoop down to capture it without recognizing the dangers of the goal's netting.
It was a Marin County science class that experienced a real-life close encounter with some local fauna when they found this owl tangled in one of the school’s soccer nets by his neck and foot!
The brave teacher saw the owl’s predicament and acted immediately, working quickly to try and free the exhausted and confused raptor from the strong nylon cord. But it seemed like every effort to cut or untangle one section would just create more tension in another. As the teacher and students became increasingly worried about cord around the owl’s delicate neck, which was bound almost as tightly as the foot was, they decided to call Marin Humane for help. Marin Humane dispatched an officer to help with the rescue and deliver the owl safely to WildCare for treatment.
Upon intake, WildCare’s Medical Staff examined the owl's neck, and assessed the foot that had taken the brunt of the constriction injuries caused by the soccer net.
Owls need their enormous feet to work perfectly for hunting and perching, so right away we had to make sure the foot still had warmth, blood-flow, and a response to pain. The owl was too exhausted to be as feisty as we’d normally expect, and that foot was badly swollen and very weak, but seeing a single flex of the toes during the exam was enough to inspire hope for a positive outcome.
The next day, the owl had made some progress. In the video above you can see Medical Staff (garbed in blue gowns to prevent the spread of avian influenza) treating this owl with medications to improve blood flow, along with pain medications and a good meal (fed with tweezers.) Raptors in care in the Wildlife Hospital often require several days to recognize the defrosted mice we provide as dinner. Turn up the audio in the video to hear the detailed explanation regarding his treatments given by Assistant Director of Animal Care, Brittany Morse.
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Fast forward four more days and the owl had improved dramatically! He is now self-feeding, and the team has discontinued his medications. Because of this, we were able to move him to an outdoor aviary on Wednesday evening to allow him space to stretch his wings and rebuild his flight muscles.
In the video above you can see this handsome owl's first moments in the outdoor aviary. He's still weak after his injury, and after spending several days in intensive care inside the Wildlife Hospital, but he will regain his full flight capability quickly.
With a little more recovery time, this Great Horned Owl should be able to return to his home territory -- hopefully more aware of the dangers of nets!
Throughout this owl's time at WildCare, our team has stayed in contact with the teacher and students who rescued him from the soccer net. None of them will ever forget the experience, and the students have had an amazing opportunity to learn about Great Horned Owls, and the dangers of entanglement to wildlife. We will coordinate the owl's release with the class, and hopefully everyone involved will be able to watch this beautiful owl, once again strong and healthy, return to the wild.