MURRAY – It’s not uncommon for owls to be hit by cars while hunting for prey along the roads, and a Calloway County man recently brought one to a wildlife rehabilitation organization to nurse one back to health.
A barred owl recently caught the attention of Rick Bucy when he spotted it along Old Salem Road near his home.
“His eyes were closed, but he was sitting straight up,” Bucy said. “I went up and started talking to him and he didn’t really do anything. So I took a little stick and touched him on his wing and he just barely responded.”
Bucy said he wasn’t sure what to do next to save the owl, so he called Beth Ott, who – along with her husband, Bill – owns and runs Western Kentucky Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Inc., a nonprofit organization in Farmington. Bucy said he put the owl in a cage to transport it to his house, and the owl barely opened its eyes while he was being moved.
“So they took him and gave him some steroids and IV solution and gave him strips of chicken and some chicken livers and kept him for a few days,” Bucy said. “(Once the owl was better) we thought we would put him back into wildlife. (Since I found him) near my house, we just went to my back yard and turned him loose. Since we turned him loose, I’ve had a real funny feeling that was him that was chattering in my trees the last couple of nights!”
Ott said the barred owl appeared to have been hit by a car, and after Bucy called, she and Bill came to pick it up. After performing triage – which included administering the steroids and fluids – on the animal, she took it to Kathie Pacheco, who runs Back Too the Wild Rescue/Rehab in Hopkinsville and is licensed to rehabilitate birds of prey. Ott said Western Kentucky Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation sometimes relies on Pacheco because the organization is limited with what it can do with owls and similar birds, although they can apply basic care.
“We don’t have a federal license to do birds of prey, but we are able to triage them,” Ott said. “So we are able to give them medicine, wrap their wing if they have a broken wing and feed them until we get them to somebody that does have a federal license. We mainly deal with mammals – raccoons, possums, squirrels, rabbits and stuff like that. Our ultimate goal is to release them back into the wild.
“And this owl had a partner there (near Bucy’s home), so that’s why they wanted to release it where it was found. Because not only does he know the area, but he also has a mate there. So that was pretty cool.”
Pacheco said there are very few people in Kentucky who are federally permitted to rehabilitate birds of prey, with people in Owensboro and Louisville being the only others she knows about. Because of that, she said she and her husband, Ruben – who volunteers with the organization – stay quite busy with cases in the western part of the state, and she was grateful that Ott was able to provide triage until they could pick the owl up themselves.
“When owls are hit by a car, they have all different depths of injuries,” Pacheco said. “This one, thankfully, wasn’t too bad. It had a little concussion and we did take him in for X-rays just in case, and it was deemed he had no broken bones. So it was just a matter of time, but when you have a concussion, you’re not quite ‘with it,’ and food is the last thing on your mind. So we have to hydrate them, which Beth did for me skillfully. She was very good at what she did, and we finished off (the job).”
Since dehydration can be a possibility in situations like this, Pacheco said she used a method called subcutaneous injection, or “subcue,” in which vital fluids are injected just underneath the skin.
“We subcue them until we can get them stabilized, and then we force-feed them for a little while until we can entice them to start taking food by themselves,” Pacheco said. “Once they do that, we give them a couple of more days to revive. He turned out beautifully and turned out better going out than he did coming in.”
Ott said that when an owl is injured on a road or highway, it’s usually because it was swooping down to snatch up an animal near the road that it wanted to eat.
“The barred owl, they get hit on the road a lot,” Ott said. “That’s the owl you’re going to see hit (most often) because frogs come out on the warm road, and they love eating the frogs.”
Ott said it is relatively unusual for an owl to be in good enough condition after being hit by a vehicle to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. If a wildlife professional finds an adult owl whose wing can’t be fixed, it is usually euthanized because it is cruel to keep an owl that has been free all its life in captivity, she said. If it is a younger owl, it might be considered to use for educational purposes. For example, the Woodlands Nature Station at Land Between the Lakes cares for several birds and other animals that were rescued at a young age and would not survive in the wild because of injuries, Ott said.
“Unfortunately, sometimes (with car-related injuries), the eyes are affected to different degrees, and after a while, we have to make a decision as to whether time and money spent is a good thing and whether it’s the best outcome for the bird,” Pacheco added. “Of course, there’s nothing worse than watching a bird suffer. This little guy was lucky. He was very lucky, and I think the fact that Beth got on it right away was crucial.”
Pacheco added that it was very fortunate Bucy found the owl when he did because when owls are hit, they can sometimes lie in a ditch for several days. She said that by the time her organization gets to them, they are often too emaciated to revive. While not everyone would choose to intervene when seeing an injured owl, Bucy said he couldn’t bear to ignore the poor creature.
“We all need to try to co-exist – animals, people, everybody,” Bucy said. “And whenever an animal like that is trying to survive and eat and gets hit like that, if I can help them and get them nursed back, that’s part of the (ecosystem). … I’m an animal lover anyway. I’ve got a donkey and a pony that are rescues. I’ve always loved animals, so that’s what I do.”