Nature Canada

Injured Owl – Who Gives A Hoot?

Image of Ted Cheskey

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

I rescued a Saw Whet Owl today, Thursday October 13th, that was caught in the canyons of downtown Ottawa, behind the Nature Canada offices at 75 Albert Street.  The building maintenance guy heard about it and wisely came to the Nature Canada offices for help. I had to leave an urgent call, but this was more urgent.

When I went behind the building to the narrow passage, there were a few people pointing to the owl that had just flown up into a small tree, where people come to smoke between our building and the English Consulate. I approached and it flew onto the security fence. I climbed the concrete edge and inched up the fence and the owl flew into the Consulate parking area. A security man walked quickly at me, concerned what I was doing climbing on the security fence. I said “there is an owl in your parking lot” and pointed. He look confused, then followed the direction that my arm was pointing, and there it was, proof that I wasn’t lying, a tiny owl sitting on the SUV of some diplomat.

I told him that I could try and capture it if I could find a net.  He said I would need more than a net, . . . also ID to get into the parking lot which I also had in the office. I returned and entered  the lot with my net and my new security buddy. We approached the vehicle with the owl. I sent my buddy, the security guard, to one side to distract the bird while I came up from behind. The SUV was very big though, and the net quite small so I needed to get closer. The owl was nervous. I managed to slip the net over it, but it slipped out as my positioning was awkward.

It flew back up onto the security fence, then back into the alleyway behind our building. It continued onto a high concrete wall, about 10 metres high directly behind our offices. Suddenly a crow spotted it, and called its mate in for some fun. Our little group of 4 or 5 owl rescuers weren’t convinced it would be fun for the owl. The crows did the same thing that the security guy and I tried, the old distraction play. It looked like they were about to succeed, likely not to rescue it but to eat it, but we could not stand it any more watching those brilliant corvids outmaneuver an exhausted and confused tiny owl. The odds just were not fair so we manifested down below and the crows got our message and kindly flew off. This is Ottawa folks, with consulates and diplomats around, it was a wise decision by the crows.

Image of a Saw Whet Owl

The Saw Whet Owl Ted Rescued.

The owl stayed put and I decided to return to my urgent call. About 20 minutes later, after speaking with a very understanding civil servant, I checked to see if folks were still standing vigil.  They weren’t. No one was around, but the owl was still on the top of the wall. I returned to our offices and realized it was about 2 metres from the desk of a colleague. I stood watching it when it decided to launch itself back towards the Consulate. Someone behind me in the office remarked “it’s probably gone now” but I didn’t think it was able to go far, as it seemed to have an eye injury – one of the eyes was partially closed I had noted early during the failed apprehension.

I went downstairs and out of the building. As I went around the side, I immediately spotted the owl on the ground between the wall and a dumpster.  Someone was taking a picture of it with their phone. I saw this as the perfect opportunity, and while the owl was hamming it up for the photographer, I snuck up behind it (something the crows taught me), and a flick with the net and the owl was secured.

It was too late to take it to the Wild Bird Care Centre, so the only thing to do was to take it home. I took it upstairs, my colleagues still at work had a good look, then I put it in a box in my office, a secured the box, and cycled home to get the car so that I could return to pick up the box with the owl. Cris, my wife, walked over from her office and we drove it to our place. I improved its habitat by collecting a few tree branches that I imbedded into the box as perches and some cedar leave at the bottom.

Then later we went to a pet store to get it supper: 4 small frozen mice and 25 crickets. After a disappointing and somewhat disastrous attempt to feed it crickets (I am looking forward to hearing the sounds of summer in the house this winter) – we tried feeding it the thawed out mouse. It was not impressed so I returned it to the box and laid the mouse in front of it on a perch.  When I returned 30 minutes later the mouse was gone and the owl was sitting on the perch with a sort of smug and satisfied look. Later, I dangled a thawed out mouse in front of it while Cris and I watched in awe as it wasted no time in grabbing it with its beak and a talon. We checked after and the 2nd mouse was gone also. By 11:30 it had eaten 3 of the mice and was looking very perking and energetic!

The next morning, the owl was taken to the Wildlife Bird Care Centre for the proper attention. If you come across an injured animal, check out the list of centers in each province where you can bring the animal!

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