Whooo’s Outsmarting Whom?

Great Horned Owl with shredded wing wrap. Photo by Melanie Piazza

The owl completely shredded his first wing wrap. Photo by Melanie Piazza

This large, and otherwise healthy Great Horned Owl was found by a Novato resident, right outside her front door. The bird had been hit by a car and was obviously severely injured.

Fortunately, this owl’s rescuer knew he needed to come to WildCare. She called the Marin Humane Society to transport the large raptor to our Wildlife Hospital, and officers Andy and Keenan picked him up and rushed him to WildCare for the medical care he so desperately needed.

Once in the Wildlife Hospital, Medical Staff quickly gave the bird fluids and pain medication. One can imagine that being hit by a car would be very painful, and this bird had obviously been grounded for multiple hours.

After the pain medications had taken effect, Medical Staff sedated the owl

Anatomy of a bird's wing

This graphic shows the anatomy of a bird’s wing. Click for a larger view.

and took radiographs (x-rays). Unfortunately, the radiographs showed significant damage to the owl’s right wing. A bird’s wing is somewhat similar to a human’s arm, with two bones in the forearm, the radius and the ulna, connecting to the humerus in the upper arm. This bird had a fractured ulna and a luxated (or dislocated) radius. Both of these are significant injuries, meaning this owl’s prognosis remains guarded.

However, the bird was otherwise very healthy, so Medical Staff decided to stabilize the broken bones by wrapping the wing while they explored options for a veterinary surgery. Thank you to our friends at Sonoma County Wildlife Rescue for getting us in contact with their avian specialist, Dr. Rupiper of East Petaluma Animal Hospital, when our usual avian veterinarian was on a well-deserved vacation!

But Great Horned Owls don’t LIKE having their wings wrapped! No animal in the Wildlife Hospital likes the bandages or other restraints their treatments require, but this owl proved especially disinclined to remain bandaged.

Great Horned Owl with a wrapped wing. Photo by Melanie Piazza

Third time’s the charm! The combination of extra tape and distraction tabs seems to have done the trick. Photo by Melanie Piazza

The next morning, WildCare volunteers and staff found the owl in a pile of torn bandage, his wing wrap completely destroyed.

The wing was carefully re-wrapped, and this time, Medical Staff added “distraction tabs” to the outside of the wrap.

What’s a distraction tab? It’s a little piece of medical tape that sticks out, offering a tempting target to a curious beak. This piece of tape doesn’t actually go anywhere, however; it’s not part of the overall construction of the wing wrap. Frequent utilization of this method has proven that a wildlife patient will spend hours pulling, tugging and otherwise destroying distraction tabs, and will often leave the actual wing wrap alone.

But this owl was not so easily deterred. The next morning, despite the carefully placed distraction tabs, the owl had once again successfully removed the wing wrap. This was a clever owl indeed!

Fortunately, the third time was the charm. As of this writing, the owl has been successfully confounded by the large number of distraction tabs placed on his bandage, and has not been able to remove his wrap. His medical chart reports that he is eating well, and that his attitude is fiesty. With luck, this clever owl’s injuries will heal and he will be able to return to the wild.


Great Horned Owl in a wing wrap. Photo by Melanie Piazza

Photo by Melanie Piazza

Help us feed injured owls like this one!

A Great Horned Owl can eat as many as six mice in a day while in care in the Wildlife Hospital! A tiny Northern Saw Whet Owl may only eat two mice a day, but it is still expensive to feed this very specialized diet to these recovering birds.

WildCare treats 50 – 75 owls every year, of several different species, and we admit owl patients throughout the year. The frozen mice (defrosted, of course) that we feed them cost $0.55 each.

Click here to make a monthly donation to help us feed our hungry owls! A monthly recurring donation will support our owl patients all year long!

$7.70 feeds a Northern Saw Whet Owl for a week

$11.55 feeds a Western Screech Owl for a week

$23.10 feeds a Great Horned Owl for a week