I participated in a release of great horned owls this weekend. I have done this more times than I care to count over the years. Yet, I never tire of it; I never get used to it; I never lose the goose bumps. Each release has a different residual effect on me, and that is often based on who is present and how they respond.
This weekend’s release had an assembled group (which is always fun) in a beautiful spot with ample trees, water, and prey….all of the things needed for a hopeful long term success. There was an unusual energy in the air. To say everyone was excited is an understatement. Some of the assembled group had stories about the owls in their neighborhood back home. Some of the group soaked up the information about great horned owls like sponges. It seemed that some of the group stoically reflected on what was about to happen without saying much at all…there was just a palpable but quiet anticipation.
Whether you are the releaser or the observer you will be moved.
When the owl was lifted from the box there was an audible gasp from the crowd. There is just no denying the impact if you have never seen a great horned owl up close. “Wow! Look at those eyes!” “It is so huge!” “How big is the wingspan?” “How much does it weigh?” “Why did he come into Liberty Wildlife?” “Where will it go?” “What will it eat?” “What can we do to keep the owls safe?” And on and on…what a great opportunity to educate the group, and we always take that opportunity.
If you pay attention you can sense the miasma of feelings and emotions that permeates the surrounding air when the owl is to be let go. Then, there is that tiny, barely noticeable, stillness that occurs between the wish for its well-being and the unloosing from the glove….it seems the owl is making an assessment; it is swallowing the air preparing for the burst of energy needed to propel it along an invisible path; and that path leads it to freedom. Some people are more sensitive to this than others. They feel it even if they can’t see the subtleness in the moment. Maybe it is people who, like the owl, for one reason or another, have experienced a lack of freedom.
There is a single mindedness, a focus, a determination. It is undeniably there.
If you aren’t moved by this, if you don’t feel a bit of a tingle up your spine, if you don’t reassess after an experience like this…you need to stop what you are doing, take a deep breath, and let it happen! It will, you know, if you allow it.
This Week at Liberty
The intake total is now at 3104.
This is definitely “pelican season” at Liberty as two more of the wayward youngsters found their way to our facility last week. The earlier large influx of accipiters is also producing a nice crop of healthy birds while a young GHO has a close encounter with some barbed wire. We also have a couple of water birds who’s adaptation ability is being tested by the carelessness of humans. Liberty participates in the Southwest Wings festival where a warm reunion takes place. Let’s look at the details…
Last week, some workers at the big mine in Bagdad noticed two brown pelicans hanging out in one of the tailings ponds at the facility. Carl made the long drive to rescue the dehydrated, very thin birds, one of which was also peppered with cactus spines. After consulting with the bird staff at Sea World, Jan modified some of our procedures in handling the large ocean soarers and allows the two to spend a couple of hours each day just hanging out in the cool area in the ICU. I hope to get them on a flight to San Diego in a day or two. (Once again, many thanks to Freeport Mcmoran for calling, Carl for doing the rescue, and US Airways for transporting the birds!)
I wasn’t going to use this shot at first, but as the bird is actually doing OK, I thought I’d stick it in for educational purposes. One of the main problems wildlife face in the world is human activity, and birds that hang around water are especially vulnerable to the equipment we use in that arena, namely fishing gear. Usually it’s hooks, sinkers, and monofilament line that entangles the bird’s feet and legs, but in this case, a great blue heron got some line wound around it’s tongue. With the circulation cut off, the last few inches of the tongue died leaving a stiff, blackened sprig of useless flesh which made eating impossible for the bird. Dr. Wyman removed the dead tissue last week and now the bird appears to be eating and has hope for recovery. Tell you friends and family: Clean up around the lake after you go fishing and don’t leave equipment scraps on the ground! Throw trash in the barrels that are almost always provided. Don’t be the careless amateur fisherman who kills the consummate professional!
From the wonderful world of accipiters, many of the cooper’s and sharp-shinned hawks we took in earlier are now getting ready to join the real world. The largest of this family of predators we have, the goshawk from Sierra Vista, is also doing well and is progressing on schedule toward ultimate release.
One lesson that is usually fatal for the birds involved is a close encounter of the worst kind with barbed wire. This very young juvenile great horned owl failed to notice he was flying into a fence of this material and wound up getting impaled on a strand. Luckily he was found and the wire was cut allowing his rescue. The sharp barbs did leave some damage, however, and this is being treated by the Med Services team.
OK, ok, we try to keep our services limited to native species, but we don’t turn our back on other little lives that need help. This little guy had some foot problems and he got some corrective “orthotics” applied by the Med Services team. After all, in the end life is life, native or not…
Liberty Wildlife Education Team members spent the weekend at the Southwest Wings Birding and Nature Festival in Sierra Vista. This is one of the oldest and best attended bird festivals in the nation. Anne, Carol, Cecile and Craig showcased four of Liberty’s avian ambassadors – Phoenix the Golden Eagle, Rio the Zone-tailed Hawk, Elliott the American Kestrel and Etta the Swainson’s Hawk. All four species can be found in the Huachuca Mountains and San Pedro River Valley surrounding Sierra Vista. Our team saw more than 1,100 visitors to the festival. A special reunion took place when our friend Christie van Cleve, dropped by to visit Etta, a Swainson’s Hawk that Christie cared for when the hawk fell out of her nest and broke her wing at the elbow. Christie helped her hawk, then named “Gaucho,” become an education bird appearing at several schools and outdoor shows in southeast Arizona. She transferred Gaucho to Liberty Wildlife last year so her bird could reach more people through our education programs. When Gaucho arrived at Liberty Wildlife, we realized Gaucho was a female bird and renamed her Etta, joining the recently retired Butch and Sundance, our Swainson’s Hawk in training. – Craig Fischer