D. E. Larsen, DVM
Sandy pulled into our driveway and parked. The kids all piled out of the car and head for the house. Sandy followed with a sack of groceries.
“Mom hit an owl,” Brenda said as soon as she came through the door.
“It just swooped down and ran right into the car,” Dee said with arms out to show the tilt of the wings.
Sandy finally came through the door carrying a bag of groceries which she quickly set on the table. She pulled out a chair and sit down, burying her head in her hands for a moment.
“It was horrible,” Sandy finally said. “It just happened so fast, I couldn’t do anything. This little owl just swooped down into the headlights and ran right into the car. I think it realized its mistake at the last minute. His wings flared, and he sort of turned sideways, and then he disappeared from view under the hood.”
“Did you see him on the road after you hit him?” I asked.
“I didn’t hit him!” Sandy said. “He hit me. And no, I didn’t see him on the road. If you haven’t noticed, it is dark outside.”
“Well, don’t feel so bad about it,” I said. “It wasn’t your fault. It is just one of those things that happen. It would have been dangerous to try to swerve to miss him.”
“I know. I just feel bad about the girls having to see it happen.”
“Maybe I better go check the front of the car,” I said.
I went out, with Amy and Dee in tow, and looked at the front of the car. Sure enough, there was a little owl stuck in the grill.
“Run and get me a flashlight, Amy,” I said as I knelt down to look closer.
This was a little screech owl. He was unconscious, but his heart was beating strong. He had one wing struck through the grill, which seemed to be what was holding him in place.
Amy returned with the flashlight, and with a better light on the subject, I carefully removed the owl from the grill.
“Is he alive?” Dee asked.
“He is alive,” I said. “Knocked out, but alive. Let’s take him in so I can get a better look at him.”
“But you don’t treat birds,” Amy said.
“For tonight, I am all he has. Tomorrow, if he is still alive, we will take him over to Dr. Britton in Albany. He is the veterinarian who takes care of all the owls and hawks in this area. You guys maybe remember me talking about Dr. Britton just the other day.”
“Oh, yes,” Amy said. “He is the one who stops and checks all the opossums who are killed on the road. He takes the babies in their pouch to feed to the hawks and owls he has in the hospital.”
“That’s the one,” I said. “And Dr. Britton tells me to have people put the injured owl in a box to keep it quiet until they can bring it over to him. So you guys get a box, and I will check this guy over on the dining room table.”
We placed a towel on the table, and I carefully positioned the little owl on the towel with the wing caught in the grill on the upside. I checked the little owl over and could find no injuries. I extended the wing that caught in the grill. It was okay, no fractures found, and even his flight feathers were undamaged.
“This guy must have put the brakes on pretty hard to escape any major injury,” I said.
“What are we going to do with him?” Sandy asked.
“I am going to give him a dose of dexamethasone and put some eye drops in his eyes. Then we will put him in the box, padded with a couple of towels, and see what morning gives us. If he can’t fly away in the morning, we will take him over to Dr. Britton.”
“Why do you call him a him all the time,” Amy said. “How do you know it is not a girl owl?”
“I don’t know if he is a she,” I said. “When I was taught the English language, I was taught to use the male pronoun when the sex was not known. I just do what Mrs. Starr told me to do.”
“Who is Mrs. Starr?” Brenda asked.
“She was my English teacher in high school.”
I went out to the truck and got some eye drops and a bottle of dexamethasone. Guessing at the weight, I gave this little owl two-tenths of a cc of dexamethasone and a couple of drops of lubricating eye drops in each eye. Figuring he had to have a pretty good knock on the head, the dexamethasone should relieve any swelling and inflammation. The eye drops were just to protect the surface of his eyes.
We put the box over in the corner, and everyone was instructed to leave it alone. A couple of hours later, the girls wanted to check the owl before going to bed.
I carefully opened the top of the box and peeked inside. There was the little owl, sitting up and looking at me with bright eyes.
“He’s awake and looks pretty good,” I said.
Of course, everyone had to peek.
“Maybe we should see if he wants to fly away,” I said.
I took the box out and put it down on the driveway. With the box opened, I stepped back. Nothing happened for a moment. I went over to the box and offered my hand for a perch. The little owl jumped on my forearm. When I lifted him clear of the confines of the box, he took off and flew into the night.
“That makes me feel much better,” Sandy said.