Fishermen, game warden, teen unite to rescue baby owl
Sometimes it takes a village to raise an owlet.
It did for a baby Great Horned Owl who was dislodged from its nest under the second bridge between Graham and Newcastle on U.S. 380 West over the weekend.
The owlet was spotted in the waters of Lake Graham, under the bridge, by many of the folks who regularly fish off the old bridge, which lies at lake level beside its replacement.
On Tuesday, two men in a small aluminum fishing boat, both of whom regularly fish in that space, decided to intervene, since two other nest-mates had already drowned, after most likely having been dislodged by the weekend’s storms.
The men used an oar to push the distressed baby, who is too young to fly, its head still covered in fuzz, onto a limb stuck beside a bridge pylon, so that it was out of the water. Because even a baby Great Horned Owl has fearsome claws, they didn’t try to capture it.
Then someone – OK, in the interest of full disclosure, it was me – called for a game warden to save the young owl.
Longtime Young County Game Warden Brent Isom arrived at the bridge, and after scoping out the situation, noted that “this is the year of the owl.”
He said he and fellow Texas Parks & Wildlife game wardens have received an inordinate number of calls about owls this year. Isom said this is because the weather made for a good year for rats and mice, owls’ favorite prey, thus in turn boosting the number of owls. Those owls have thus turned up in deer stands, barns, and other places whose owners would rather the birds had chosen differently.
Isom left, then returned with a canoe and an assistant – his 14-year-old daughter, Hannah. The two unloaded their canoe from Isom’s pickup, put a dip net and towel into the craft, and Isom paddled over to the bird.
Hannah, holding the net by its 5-foot handle, scooped up the owlet in one swift move and brought it to the safety of the canoe. The bird was angry, but finally safe.
Isom took the owlet to Wild Bird Rescue Inc. in Wichita Falls, which cares for orphaned and abandoned birds, including raptors like owls, hawks and eagles, which are protected by law. Each year, the nonprofit takes in between 1,200 and 2,000 birds, and after rehabilitation, releases as many as possible back into the wild.
Cassandra Shinpaugh, executive director of the rescue, said Wednesday morning the owlet “looks really good, but he’s really hungry.”
“We expect a full recovery,” she said.
He has been placed with several other young owls of about the same age. Provided he survives, he will be released back into the wild in this area, once he’s grown and can take care of himself.
Great Horned Owls are found across almost all parts of North and South America, and aggressive, powerful hunters with a 5-foot wingspan. They hunt mostly at night, from high perches, snagging prey with their talons. Their clawed feet are extremely powerful and their sharp talons can seriously and permanently injure not just their prey, but humans.
If you see a baby owl on the ground, leave it alone. Baby owls typically leave the nest before they can fly, but can climb trees well; plus, their parents are probably nearby, watching.
To learn more about the work of Wild Bird Rescue Inc., visit their website at wildbirdrescueinc.org.