The Last Chapter – Story of the Owl

Image of Ted Cheskey

Ted Cheskey
Senior Conservation Manager – Bird Conservation, Education & Networks

A flock of Wild Turkeys greeted me in the parking lot of the Ottawa Wild Bird Care Centre on Friday morning. Inside, I signed the papers, and passed “Shoo Shoo” (of course we gave our little Saw-whet Owl a name) to some skilled volunteers. He was eating and was definitely perkier than the night before. There was hope.

The Centre is tucked into a beautiful forest on the outskirts of Ottawa. I felt better myself being surrounded by trees gradually shedding their magnificent plumage, with the grind and churning of the city like a distant memory. A great environment to heal, I thought.

The weekend passed and on Monday afternoon I called the Centre. Shoo Shoo was eating and was taking medicine to address any infection and inflammation. They eye was not healing. I felt uneasy by the news as I thought he would be getting better by now.

On Tuesday afternoon I had an idea. If Shoo Shoo needed long term care, the Owl Foundation – a remarkable, world class facility for owl care established by Kay and Larry McKeever dozens of years ago on the Niagara Peninsula – was the place for Shoo Shoo to recover or live out its life if the eye was lost. I contacted the Foundation, and shortly after received a call from the Wild Bird Care Centre. Of course they knew each other well and talked. Plans were in the making for me to deliver two owls to the Foundation, Shoo Shoo, and a much larger Barred Owl – the one who says “who cooks for you, who cooks for you allllll” from deep in the forests around Ottawa and Gatineau.  Plans were made, Cris was happy with the new travel arrangement as was cousin Di.

Then the call Thursday morning, the call that no one wants, but which reminds us how fragile life is. A bunch of us did our best to help our little owl; the building maintenance manager, the security people at the British Consulate, my colleagues, my wife and the folks at the Ottawa Wild Bird Care Centre. But on Thursday morning Shoo Shoo died. The Centre director told me that he had been in decline the last few days, and in the end the trauma to its head took its toll.

I am sad, but also grateful for the compassionate care that I witnessed. Despite all of the gloomy news in the world I am reminded of the goodness that we are all capable of.

Owl with mouse

Figure 1: Shoo Shoo the Saw-whet Owl takes a mouse for dinner. Photo by Ted Cheskey

Wild Bird Care Centre

Figure 2: Welcoming entrance to Ottawa’s Wild Bird Care Centre. Photo by Ted Cheskey

Epilogue

On Friday night we picked up the big Barred Owl in a small carry kennel that fit nicely into our car. The trip to Ajax was uneventful and the Barred Owl did not make a peep. The next morning, Shoo Shoozao (the name Cris gave the Barred Owl which I think means the “big Shoo Shoo” in Portuguese), Cris, Di and I travelled to Vineland. Annick, the bird care manager for the Owl Foundation met us and guided us to the assessment room where the big owl was deftly removed from his carrying box and carefully assessed – much like a physical exam that we humans get every so often. He had recovered from a collision with a vehicle, the most frequent source in injury for owls that are brought to the Centre.

Roads and traffic take a big toll on owls, which hunt along roadsides where maintained grassy habitat encourages populations of small mammals like meadow voles and white-footed mice. Owls hunt at night using their hearing to locate prey, lock-onto it with their radar-like senses, then launch themselves towards it, gliding silently through the air, sometime across a road towards their prey on the other side. Unfortunately this level of concentration is too often broken by a fast moving vehicle, and the resulting collision is usually fatal. In the case of Shoo Shoozao, luckily the impact was with its tail and “lower body,” and not so severe to prevent full recovery.

Annick admitted our big Barred Owl with a good prognosis for release later this fall or next spring when the new tail grows in. Before leaving we were blessed with a few minutes with co-founder of The Owl Foundation, author and award-winner Kay McKeever. In the sunroom we enjoyed a tea with Kay, her amazing Great Gray Owl, also survivor of a vehicle collision, perched statue-like in the middle of the room, and her three very large house cats.  At 92, Kay is still full of passion for her owls and stories from her past.  The grace and compassion from Kay and Annick touched us deeply, and buoyed our spirits as we returned to our troubled human world.

Barred Owl on Examining Table

Figure 3: Barred Owl on examination table, Owl Foundation. Photo by Ted Cheskey

Kay Mckeever and Ted

Figure 4: Myself and Kay McKeever. Photo by Cris Navarro

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