Call it a “hoot-warming” story as winter weather settles in across the district.
An injured short-eared owl was rescued by local couple Rick and Val Hallam, and now has a new—albeit temporary—home at a wildlife rescue centre in Kenora.
The rare owl was first discovered by Hallam back on Nov. 11 when he was taking the garbage to the curb for pick-up at 4 a.m. before heading out to go hunting.
“Some noise in the ditch next to my driveway got my attention, so I pulled my flashlight out of my pocket and I shone it down in the ditch and there’s a little owl—with one wing stuck outside ways and he looked like he’d been injured,” Hallam recalled.
The owl was—and “trying desperately” to get away from him, he noted.
So Hallam just let it be, but kept an eye out for it over the next couple of days.
When he didn’t see the owl again, Hallam assumed it either had flown away or was taken by a fox or some other animal.
But more than a week later, on Nov. 22, Hallam was clearing a path along the front of his house by his wife’s flower beds when he found the bird under one of the cedar bushes.
“I stopped the snowblower, looked down, and there’s this little owl and poor little thing probably hadn’t eaten in 10 days,” Hallam remarked.
“So I went and got one of our cat carriers, got a blanket and put it in there, and brought it into the garage and gave it a tin of cat food and some water,” he noted.
Checking in on the owl, however, Hallam noticed it wasn’t eating the food. So the next day, he contacted local vet Dr. Dan Pierroz, who suggested he contact the wildlife rescue centre in Kenora operated by wildlife custodian Lil Anderson.
With some advice from Anderson, Hallam brought the owl inside to warm up and tried a different meal other than the cat food.
“And by golly, by that evening after he got warmed up, the little guy started to eat, [and] Tuesday he ate some more,” Hallam said.
The bird was about the size of a large crow, Hallam estimated, and at that point his best guess was that it was a boreal owl.
Then last Wednesday (Nov. 24), Hallam, accompanied by his friend, Larry Cousineau, made the trip to Kenora to transfer the owl to Anderson for rehabilitation.
“She [Anderson] was actually quite elated—it turned out to be a fairly rare species of short-eared owl, which is a migratory bird that migrates from northern Canada down to the south-central United States, and in some cases even as far as Mexico or Central America,” Hallam explained.
“I was glad that Rick was able to bring it up,” said Anderson, noting short-eared owls are “not terribly common” and are considered as a species of special concern both provincially and federally.
Upon further examination, the owl’s injury turned out to be a broken left wing.
If rehabilitation is possible, the owl eventually will be returned to Hallam in the spring so it can be released where it was found and not lose its bearing.
But at this point, Anderson said she’s doubtful the bird will fly again.
“It has an old injury that had already healed,” she explained.
“When we took the X-rays, we realized that setting the wing wouldn’t do it any good because the bone had already healed into a certain position.”
As a wildlife custodian, Anderson takes in animals with the intent to release them back in the wild. But since this one likely can’t be, she will be searching to find a placement for it.
She plans to get contact The Owl Foundation in southern Ontario, which has “been doing wonderful things with owls” for more than 60 years, to see where this little owl could find a new home.
Despite the injury, Anderson said the owl is doing very well, getting a diet of mice she has been catching in her garage as well as purchased white mice.
“He’s eating very well, doing very well, quite frisky, and actually he was in quite good condition when I got him,” she noted.
“He wasn’t terribly thin, so he must have been hunting on the ground for a period of time,” she remarked, noting this is quite common with short-eared owls given they are a ground nester.
“That’s one of the reasons also why they’re always in danger when they’re nesting—farmers haying the field or people mowing their lawns can often run them over without realizing because they do nest on the ground,” she explained, noting she also gets quite a few owls brought in who have been hit on the road.
The exact cause of this owl’s injury is hard to say, she added.
Along with a host of wildlife critters she cares for, Anderson said the number of owls she will take in over the year varies.
“It often depends on what’s happening in the north,” she noted. “If there’s shortages of mice in the north, then I start getting numbers of snowy owls and great gray owls and boreal owls in from year to year—it can vary greatly.
“This is the second owl I’ve gotten since January of last year. But some years I may start getting 10 or 15 in the fall just because they’re coming in from the north starving to death.
“I can try to do the rehab part, I’m always willing to try with animals,” Anderson continued.
“But I can’t do the rescues or pick-ups, so the fact that [Hallam] was able to make the trip all the way up to deliver it was a good thing,” she said.