The Biter.

After six long months of not rehabbing, I finally got back into the flight cage on Saturday and rehabbed an injured great horned owl. Mary, a student employee at the MRP, was helping me and explained that they believe him to be rather young due to the fact that his feathers are still soft and clean and his eyes aren’t grainy (which happens as GHOWs age). He was found somewhere in Iowa City, and had an injury to his left wing.

This particular owl has been in the flight cage for a few weeks now, and is currently on a regimen of 10 wing stretches for his injury and five perch-to-perch flights. Since I hadn’t caught a wild, angry bird for a while, I had Mary go first and bring him out into the area where we do the flying. He wasn’t happy but we got him weighed and Mary began doing the wing stretches. She handed the owl over to me after she did a few and I took over. While I was holding him to my chest, Mary reminded me that owls have long necks and he could easily extend his to reach my face…which normally wouldn’t be a problem but this particular owl was a biter. I was wearing eye protection but I also didn’t want a chunk of flesh taken out of my cheek so I lowered him a bit and continued doing wing stretches. Every once in a while he would turn his head 90 degrees and try to bite my sweatshirt. Thankfully I was layered up since, well, it’s winter, so I didn’t feel anything.

After the wing stretches, we began the perch-to-perch flying and the owl did really well. He was a bit hard to catch when I had to launch him from my hands but once his wings were folded into his body and his back was against my torso, he was relatively well-behaved and he couldn’t get away. We did about 5 P-to-P flights but the owl was getting tired and a (little pissed) so we quit. The whole process took a little less than an hour. After that, I fed the resident owls since the regular Saturday feeder was out of town for the hoilday.

I realized while watching this owl fly that I’ve only really studied the way injured birds fly up close. Sure, we have all seen birds flying around in the skies but most of the time they are either too high or too fast for us to really observe them. The GHOW in the flight cage, for instance, pulls to the right when he flies due to the injury to his left wing. Obviously I know that his body is supposed to be symmetrical when he flies, but if there are other, smaller nuances I need to watch for I’m a little clueless. For instance, he had a few small sores on the bottom of one of his feet and I doubt I would have noticed something like that had I been rehabbing alone. I will learn to look for things like that but at this point I was glad to have someone there with me to point out the little things like that.

I’m not sure when I will get to work with him again. I told Mary I could come out over the weekend again to give it another go so we’ll see. He looks like he’s going to need to build more strength before he’s released, so I’m sure there will be opportunities.

I’m very glad to have rehabbed this weekend. It had been way too long and I just love the way it feels to hold a wild bird so close that I can see its feathers individually and even smell its breath (which isn’t pleasant, let me tell you). Letting my spirit mingle with that of a wild animal up close is a feeling I can’t get enough of.



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