All summer, we heard screech owls in our back yard and in the woods just behind our house. A few times, we saw a young owl in the live oaks. We searched the limbs with our flashlight a time or two. When the young owl in the tree was startled, it would fly down to the ground. We even saw a young owl on the ground a couple of times late at night. This puzzled us as we did not think that staying on the ground was safe owl behavior. (I have since learned that baby screech owls leave the nest long before they can fly and spend a lot of time on the ground. It seems that the parents still feed them and keep an eye on them. They get buack up on the branches by climbing the trees.) It has been a few weeks since we have heard the owls, probably because cooler weather has kept us in doors at night most of the time.
Friday morning around 9:30, Stephen left for work as usual. He came back to the house almost immediately. "Honey, come out here quick," he said as he opened the front door. I dropped the toast I was eating back onto my plate and hurried out. At the end of our next door neighbor's driveway sat a small owl. Seemingly oblivious to our presence, it slowly turned its head from one side to the other and back again. It did this continually. I left Stephen to watch it while I ran back inside to get my phone. I dialed 311. I just love 311. It is the best thing since 911. Both of these services do things that the phone company did when it actually had operators to whom you could talk by picking up the phone and dialing "O". The 311 dispatcher hooked me up with the local wildlife rescue.
By now, we had gotten within four feet of the owl who continued to turn its head from side to side and seem completely unaware of our presence. Kim at Wildlife Rescue asked me if I thought I could slip up on the owl, throw a towel over it and put it in a box. I said I could because I was almost close enough to touch it and it was not reacting to me at all. She warned me not to use my bare hands because owl's talons are very sharp.
We got the owl in the box and taped it up as instructed. Stephen left for work and I headed for Wildlife Rescue. Kim had told me that it sounded like the owl had a concussion. She said that it is not all that uncommon for them to fly into things and bonk their heads. Sure enough, she was able to find a head injury that I could not see even when she showed it to me. She had no idea if the owl would survive but said that the first 24 hours are critical and if it made it that long, it would have a chance. I called back yesterday morning to find that it was still alive (the person I spoke with sounded a little surprised that it was) and that they were going to try and feed it something later in the day. I'll call again tomorrow (Monday) and check on it again.
This is not my first experience with odd owl behavior. For years, I worked at San Angelo State School which is not really in San Angelo, TX but is about twenty-five miles out of town in Carlsbad, TX. Originally built in the 1930s & '40s as a sanatorium to treat TB patients, its art deco styled buildings are made of poured cement. You can still see the ridges where the frames were removed. Several of the buildings have cement window boxes which at one time housed flowers but are no longer used. Some years ago, an owl decided that one of these old window boxes was the perfect place to nest. The nest was built,, the eggs were laid and all was fine in the owl world until the eggs hatched and the sun beat down on the chicks. The nest box was on the west side of the building with no shelter. Momma owl would leave the nest and the babies would start to fry. Then they would jump out of the nest onto the ground. This would be in April, usually when our survey team was on campus. People would take bedsheets and stand under the window trying to catch the hatchlings when they jumped. They would take the ones they could save to the local animal rescue. This happened for two or three years in a row. Finally, someone in the maintenance department decided to build a roof to put over the nest. We did not know if the momma would come back to the nest with the roof over it but since the hatchlings were jumping out and having to be rescued anyway, it seemed that there was nothing to lose by giving it a try.
They waited until the eggs hatched and the momma left the nest. Then, they took a cherry picker and placed the roof over the nest and we all waited to see what would happen next. To our delight, she returned and fed the babies, raising them to flying age. After that, the yearly routine remained the same, let her build the nest and hatch the eggs, then put the roof over the nest. When I left that area almost nine years ago, she was still raising her hatchlings in the window box.
I have a souvenir of the owl. One early spring morning I went to work before day light and heard the adult owls calling to each other from the roof tops. Just as it was getting light, I took a fire escape to get into the back door of one of the buildings and found a tiny pen feather from one of the owls. I still have it. It is wrapped together with a hawk's feather (another long story) with a red chord. I keep it is a special box made by a friend and take it out for meditation ceremonies and sometimes for energy work. I consider hawks and owls my strongest totem animals and am very appreciative of their guidance and support.
The photo of the owl is from http://www.cnr.uidaho.edu/expforest/images/Wildlife%20in%20forest/Screech%20Owl.jpg As much as I wanted to make a picture of the little guy, I did not think it wise to take time out to do so.
Soundtrack: I Am the Owl by the Dead Kennedys