Giving a hoot after an owl hits your car — a first-person account

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

EDITOR'S NOTE: Port Townsend-Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant tells of finding help for an owl that flew into his car earlier this week.



PORT GAMBLE — With an hour to travel the 22 miles to the Bainbridge Island Ferry on Tuesday night, something flashed by in a white blur, struck my car and went flying.

I pulled over expecting to see a dead cat, hopefully with a collar, so I could call the family and make the notification.

Instead, there was a pile of white feathers that turned out to be a comatose owl.

There was no way to tell whether it was dead or alive right away, although I got a weak squeeze when placing a finger inside its talon, so I placed it on the passenger seat and drove away.

It turned out to be an 8-month-old female barred owl weighing 850 grams — less than 2 pounds — and with a wingspan of 15 inches.

She had suffered a bruised eye, a bloody nose and muscle damage that will for a time affect her ability to fly and hunt.

She is now under treatment at the West Sound Wildlife Shelter on Bainbridge Island — which turned out to be her second visit.

After visiting her on Wednesday at the shelter, where I learned that birds are banded but not named, I began to refer to her as Lili, after my extraordinarily wise mother who died in 2011 (and to whom I provided a significant number of knocks on the head, although not literally).

The staff usually determines the owl's age and origin by the bands on her legs.

In this case, they found that Lili was born at the home of Jamie Acker, a Bainbridge Island resident who runs the local banding program,

On both occasions, the center ran vision tests and found no appreciable damage, attributing the previous accident to confusion resulting from a window's reflection.

On Wednesday, Lili was dealing with the effects of pain medication and antibiotics, perched in her cage surrounded by the thawed mice corpses that are used as food. (During rehabilitation, when they are taught how to hunt again, they get live ones).

She hadn't really improved by Thursday and hadn't eaten.

Wildlife Care Technician Brandy Steir characterized her condition as “cautiously pessimistic,” saying that she was in a lot of pain.

Rehabilitation can take from three days to several months. If successful, the owl will be released at the same location where she was found.

As a young bird, Lili was most likely in the vicinity of her parents, who will not challenge her rights to the territory, Stier said.

Horn said the release of a rehabilitated raptor is a celebrated occasion, one to which I will be invited.

If it is unsuccessful, Lili will either be euthanized or used in educational programs.

Stier said that Lili had most likely zeroed in on a mouse feeding by the side of the road and had swooped down for a snack without seeing my car.

At the center, I learned that placing her on a car seat unprotected was unwise.

“The priority when someone finds an animal they need to make sure the animal is safe but should also consider their own safety,” said Lisa Horn, the center's executive director on Wednesday.

“When you find a bird, you should put a blanket over them, or put them in a box where they can breathe but not see, so they can stay calm and quiet.

“These are not pets,” Horn continued. “If you find an injured animal then you need to call us and we'll walk you through what you need to do.”

Horn told of a woman who found a hawk and followed her natural instinct to cradle it like a baby.

The wild bird sunk its talons into the woman's arm.

The woman drove to the center with the bird firmly attached to her arm. It had to be anesthetized to loosen its grip.

Lucky for me, Lili was too dazed to take a stand.

While driving, I dialed 9-1-1 and was directed to the center. To increase my chances of making it to Seattle on time the center staff agreed to meet me at the park-and-ride in front of Clearwater Casino.

When I pulled into the rendezvous point, two staff members approached the window.

When they saw Lili on the front seat they grimaced, grabbed a towel and threw it over her head, an action she didn't seem to appreciate.

I was grateful that the West Sound Wildlife Center was on my way and they were there to answer the phone. I learned later that would not have been the case 15 minutes later.

I marveled at the technology that contributed to this success, how I could drive and talk at the same time and coordinate a successful rescue when not too long ago I'd have banged on a stranger's door and asked to use the phone.

The center, located at 7501 North Dolphin Drive at the north end of Bainbridge Island, has operated since 1999, will moved to an as-yet undetermined location in Kitsap County next year.

The new site will contain large, enclosed areas where the birds can learn how to fly, swim and hunt before being released into the wild.

Since birds don't observe county lines, rescue agencies work together to get rehabilitated wild birds back in the air.

In Port Townsend, Cynthia Daily runs the nonprofit Discovery Bay Raptor Rehabilitation and Education center — with the help of volunteers and husband, Port Townsend Police Chief Conner Daily — out of her home south of Port Townsend.

Daily often uses West Sound Wildlife's facilities for rehabilitation once she has dealt with the bird's initial injuries.

Anyone coming into contact with an injured bird, can phone Daily at 360-379-0802, who then will provide further instructions for care.

In Clallam County, the Northwest Raptor & Wildlife Center also is operated out of a private home — that of Jaye Moore, who has worked to rescue animals for 30 years.

The raptor center at 1051 W. Oak Court in Sequim can be contacted at 360-681-2283 or at http://nwraptorcenter.com/.

To contact the West Sound Wildlife Shelter, call 206-855-9057 or go to www.westsoundwildlife.org.

________

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: December 19. 2013 7:46PM
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