Rescuers hope injured bird has more ‘Owl Lang Syne’ to come

The injured barred owl seemed to appreciate the warm nest provided by Chris Hunter. Submitted photo.

When Chris Hunter decided to take his skateboard out for an evening skate at St. Lawrence College on Monday, Jan. 2, 2023, he never expected he’d be giving a hoot about an injured bird.

All puns aside, Hunter had just tried a kickflip when his board escaped him and skidded across the pavement, bumping over something. “I went over to grab [the board] and there was an owl… It didn’t move at all; its head was moving around a bit, but it just laid there.”

Hunter knew the owl, a barred owl commonly known as a “hoot owl,” obviously needed some sort of help. Unsure what to do, he turned to the social media site Reddit, an online message board platform with user-created sub-boards known as “subreddits.”

On the r/KingstonOntario subreddit, a number of users came to Hunter’s aid, urging him to call Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre in Napanee, a non-profit organization that rehabilitates injured and orphaned wild animals and releases them back into the wild.

“Everyone on Reddit said to call Sandy Pines, so I called them,” Hunter said. “The girl there was just leaving, and she asked me if I could take him in for the night.”

Hunter said he was willing to do this, so he retrieved some blankets and a recycling bin to make a warm nest for his new pal. “He was appreciative to be in the blankets and stuff… Whenever I would lift the recycling bin, he was kind of freaking out. He gaped his beak open and made this clicking noise, but when I was petting him, he seemed appreciative. I guess as appreciative as an owl can be.”

That’s when Reddit user Katie Purtell, offered the owl a space in a heated chicken coop, where it could relax in warmth for the night until Sandy Pines opened in the morning.

Purtell wrote later on the subreddit, “We are home, I have him set up in his own pen. I rigged up a low watt heat lamp to give him a little comfort. He did flap his wings a bit earlier, so I think that’s a good sign! He didn’t seem very into taking water from the eye dropper/syringe, but I’ll try again later. He’s now tucked in for the night, his breathing seems normal, I will keep updating! Thank you for finding him and helping him.”

Purtell managed to get the owl to Sandy Pines by early afternoon the next day, Tuesday, Jan. 3.

That day, a spokesperson from Sandy Pines who assessed the bird said that the owl likely sustained head trauma and a possible spine injury after being struck by a vehicle. “It can feel its legs but [is] not using them very well. It is very alert and clicking, which are great signs.”

They put the owl in an oxygen therapy tent, she said, and it would be kept there for about 24 hours “to help with regulation of things.” Then they would assess in more detail what was going on with the bird. 

As of Wednesday, Jan. 4, the owl was still in the oxygen chamber, said another Sandy Pines spokesperson, “but he’s lively and active. So, we’re hoping the recovery time [will allow the] swelling to go down. And hopefully, if the swelling goes down, he’s able to recover the use of his feet. It’s kind of wait and see.”  The owl was eating and drinking, as well, another good sign.

According to the Audobon Field Guide, the barred owl or Strix Varia ranges from southern Florida to Southern Ontario. Its usual habitat is mostly dense and thick woods with only scattered clearings, especially in low-lying and swampy areas. While it is most common in deciduous or mixed woods in the southeast, in the north and northwest extensions of its range it may be found in mature coniferous trees. 

Its “rich baritone hooting”  is a characteristic sound in swamps, “where members of a pair often will call back and forth to each other. Although the bird is mostly active at night, it will also call and even hunt in the daytime. Only a little smaller than the great horned Owl, the barred owl is markedly less aggressive.”

And thanks to the care and concern of local residents and an online community, one little barred owl might well get back to embodying those characteristics soon.

For more information on Sandy Pines Wildlife Centre, and how residents can help the organization — both financially and through the donation of a wide variety of items — visit the Sandy Pines website.

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