I love a good animal story. You know the kind I mean. An injured animal rescued by some well-meaning humans and after months of rehab released back into the wild to live the life it was meant to have.
This is not that kind of story.
The first inkling I had that something was happening was a lunchtime Facebook post from someone asking for help for an injured owl. The owl had crawled into the bushes in a park right behind City Hall. For a raptor that normally roosts in the trees during the day and is active only at night, seeing an owl on the ground during the day is most definitely concerning.
Paging through the comments on the Facebook post I knew the answers were not going to result in help for the owl. How did I know this? Because I am a long-time supporter of the world renowned Raptor Center (RC) at the University of Minnesota. The RC provides medical care and rehabilitation for raptors of all sizes and, in the best case scenario, is lucky enough to release the birds back into the wild. Their educational posts have provided lots of information about how to help injured birds.
So naturally I posted the author should contact the Raptor Center, but I also put a large box and a pair of sturdy gloves in my car as I headed back to work slightly early. Taking a slow trip around the road where the owl was spotted, I had a plan to rescue the bird myself and take it to the Raptor Center for care. Their natural colored plumage is well suited to camouflage it from the surrounding foliage and unfortunately I saw no sign of the bird, but hoped that maybe someone else had gathered the bird up and were finding help for it.
Just a few hours later I heard a co-workers voice. “Hey raptor lady, do you want to take an injured owl up to the Center?” Somehow she too had become involved in the owl’s plight and before I knew it the owl had been caught by yet another co-worker, placed in a large dog crate and deposited in my office. The RC was willing to look at the owl as long as someone (me) could bring it to them.
To keep the owl (who we had by that point named “Peter” after the City of St. Peter) calm, the dog crate was covered with towels. Halfway up I had a horrible thought. Peter hadn’t made a single sound the entire time. Maybe he was dead?! It wasn’t until arriving at the Center, when a staff person came out to help me with the crate, that I finally got to see him. Lifting the towel, two very large, golden eyes peered back at me from inside the crate. He looked alert and his wing, which had been at a very odd angle when first placed in the crate, was now tucked next to his body. He had made it through the trip and the glimmer of hope I had felt when I first heard about him turned into a small flame.
I wasn’t able to go into the Center with Peter and as I stood out on the loading dock waiting for them to transfer him to their cage and return our dog crate, I nearly jumped out of my skin at the scream of an eagle coming from one of the Center rookeries located right behind me. It was a great reminder of the work they do and that Peter was in good hands. On my way home again I allowed myself to start imagining what the day would be like when I could witness his release and nature would once again be restored.
That daydream lasted only until the phone call from the RC a few days later. Peter didn’t make it. He had a dislocated elbow and a broken wing and the wounds had become infected. Too ill to be saved, they had done the humane thing and ended his suffering. Because the Raptor Center is an educational endeavor through the College of Veterinary Medicine, they gathered as much information about Peter as they could and graciously shared it with me.
Peter was, in fact, a girl. She was a “hatch year” owl born in March or April of this year…so still just a young bird. They couldn’t say for sure how she had been injured, only that the injuries were quite old and she had been in quite a lot of pain for a very long time. It was very hard to hear the woman say that if someone had found Peter much earlier she might very well have been saved. While I don’t know for sure, I expect owls are very much like other animals and when ill or injured, they do everything possible to hide it from possible predators. The fact that Peter had shown herself to any number of humans most likely meant she was desperate and that broke my heart.
The news was devastating of course, but Peter’s death was not in vain. The Saint Peter community came together with dozens of people invested in rescuing her. I got to see the beauty of a Great Horned Owl up close and I was finally able to do more than write a check to help these glorious birds. Peter’s suffering was ended in the most humane way possible and while very sad, at least she is no longer in pain.
Another blessing is that the whole incident allowed me to spread the news about the Raptor Center and the wonderful and innovative work they do to save magnificent birds.
It was an ending none of us had hoped for, but as with so many things in life, an experience none of us will forget – least of all me.
Maybe I shouldn’t be using this blog for promotion of something I hold so dear, but If you love seeing eagles and hawks and falcons and owls and even vultures flying high in the sky, I hope you too will consider supporting the Minnesota Raptor Center or a similar organization in your area. You can find out more at https://raptor.umn.edu
Rest in peace our dear Peter and be well my friends….