Great Horned Owl Rescue

PATIENT:  Great Horned Owl, #10-2051 LOCATION:  Bedford County, Virginia CAUSE OF ADMISSION:   Trapped in chimney for two weeks ADMISSION DATE:  September 28 PROGNOSIS:  Non-releasable On Tuesday, September 28, wildlife rehabilitator Gwenn Johnston arrived at the Wildlife Center with a Great Horned Owl - and an amazing story.  Two weeks earlier, a couple in Bedford heard some noises coming from their chimney.  Assuming that it was a nesting bird, they didn't think too much of it.  But after a number of days passed, they grew increasingly concerned and decided to take a look.  After climbing to the rooftop of their one-story house, they peered down into the chimney ... and saw a rather large owl staring back up at them. Unsure of who to call, the couple ended up contacting the Blue Ridge Animal Hospital in Bedford on Friday, September 24.  Fortunately, Wildlife Care Alliance president Gwenn Johnston works at Blue Ridge and has been a permitted wildlife rehabilitator for more than 20 years.  Since she was working that day, Gwenn agreed to stop by the couple's house after work to check out the situation.  When she peered down into the chimney with a flashlight, she saw two large yellow eyes staring back up at her - an image that she says will forever be burned into her memory.  Knowing that additional help was needed, Gwenn spent a restless night coming up with a plan and got in touch with her good friend John Briscoe, who owns Black Goose Chimney Sweep, Inc. On Saturday morning, John went to take a look at the chimney to better assess the situation.  Once he had an idea of the equipment needed, he called in Gwenn for the big rescue.  With John at the fireplace and Gwenn on the roof, a large chimney brush was inserted through the four-inch flue opening and was maneuvered under the owl.  With the big bird riding on top of the brush, John used his extension pole to carefully raise the owl up the 20-foot chimney.  Unfortunately, about halfway up the chimney, the owl decided to jump off of the brush and ended up back at the bottom, on top of the damper.  Changing brushes, John made another attempt.  This time, the Great Horned Owl made it within four feet of the top before looking like it might jump again.  Calling a halt to the "owl elevator", Gwenn called out for someone to fetch her catch pole, which was in her car.  With a lot of maneuvering, Gwenn managed to get the owl off of the chimney brush and brought it within arms' reach. Once the owl was finally in hand, all involved breathed a sigh of relief after the hour-long ordeal.  With a cursory roof-top physical exam, Gwenn knew that the owl was certainly not out of danger yet.  The bird was extremely emaciated, which was quite concerning to Gwenn.  It also had wounds on both of its carpi (the wrists) and its talons were worn down from the prolonged struggle to free itself from the chimney.  Once Gwenn returned home with the owl on Saturday, she gave it fluids and was pleased to see the bird perk up.  She tube-fed the bird on Sunday and later that night introduced a small amount of whole food.  On Tuesday, September 28, she drove the Great Horned Owl up to the Wildlife Center to be checked over by the vets.  By that point, the owl was bright and alert and was on the path to recovery.  Once admitted to the Center, the owl received a physical exam.  Because the wounds on the Great Horned Owl's wings were down to the bone, Wildlife Center vets cleanedthe wounds, treated them with antibiotic ointment, and covered them with tegaderm (a transparent dressing for wounds).  Blood was also drawn from the owl; preliminary results show that the bird is anemic and also has some blood parasites.   While the owl is not out of the woods yet, the WCV veterinary team is optimistic.  Kudos to Gwenn, John, and the couple in Bedford for the successful rescue of this owl!

October 1 update 

On October 1 Dr. Miranda sutured up the wounds on the owl's wings.  According to Dr. Kelly, the owl is doing well, eating well, and has a great attitude.  The vet team found no injuries to the owl's eyes.  The owl was moved to one of the Center's outdoor recovery and rehabilitation enclosures on October 5 -- a less stressful setting for the owl.  The veterinary and rehabilitation staff will be watching to see if the owl regains weight lost during its time in the chimney.

October 14 update

The owl continues to do well, however, his carpal wounds are proving to be difficult to treat.  Because these injuries are on the parts of the owl's wings that stretch and move, the sutures that Dr. Miranda originally used to keep the wounds closed have popped open.  The veterinary team has changed their wound management process recently to encourage more tissue to grow over the injured area.  Great-horned Owl #10-2051 continues to put on weight, though staff expect him to gain more with his extra dinner portions. 

October 20 update

On Monday, October 18th, the veterinary team decided to stop daily wound treatments and instead are providing treatments every other day.  The wound on the right carpus continues to heal more quickly than the left.  Because the Great-horned Owl won't be handled quite as often, the staff moved the bird to a larger flight pen so that it can begin to build muscle mass.  When released into the pen, the owl made a couple of flights down the length of the pen and was able to sustain altitude to land on the perches. 

November 2 update

On November 1st, the WCV veterinary team checked on Great-horned Owl #10-2051's carpal wounds during outdoor rounds.  The wounds on both wings are healing well, and while the vets will continue to monitor the wounds and apply A&D ointment, they will now do this procedure every three days.  While the owl has been flying back and forth in his flight pen on his own, he will begin his official exercise program today.  This means that the rehabilitation staff will be making this bird fly back and forth several times while monitoring his progress.  Over the next couple of weeks, the goal will be to have the owl fly more and more "laps" in the flight pen while increasing his endurance. 

November 9 update

The owl continues to make great progress and has now passed "mouse school" -- demonstrating that it is able to hunt successfully.  Center veterinarians have now cleared this Great Horned Owl for release.  Outreach Director Amanda Nicholson is now working to pin down a release site close to the place where this owl was originally rescued.  A November 2010 release is likely -- possibly as early as the week of November 15. 

November 19 update

On Monday November 15, both staff wildlife rehabilitators noticed that the Great Horned Owl was flying loudly, and with more effort.   Since Great Horned Owls need to fly entirely silently to able to hunt their prey (which this owl was doing beautifully last week), this is a cause for concern.  It appears as though the bird broke several of its tail feathers over the course of the weekend, which could cause it to fly with additional effort.  Further examination is needed to determine if anything else is affecting the owl before release is considered; radiographs are scheduled for Monday, November 22.

November 22 update

On Monday, November 22, Dr. Miranda examined the Great Horned Owl to determine whether any additional problems were inhibiting the owl's smooth and silent flight.  During the course of the physical examination, she found that the owl's right carpus was swollen.  Radiographs confirmed a soft tissue swelling around the bird's "wrist", but fortunately did not show any changes to the bones.  The bird has been started on a one week course of anti-inflammatories to see if any improvement is made and exercise has been temporarily discontinued.  The owl will be reassessed on November 29.

December 6 update

After nearly two weeks on anti-inflammatories, the swelling on the Great Horned Owl's wing has decreased, though has not completely disappeared.  The wing doesn't seem quite as stiff upon physical examination.  The anti-inflammatories will be continued for at least another week while the owl resumes its exercise regimen. 

January 4 update

After a month of consistent exercise, Great Horned Owl #10-2051 still struggles to maintain silent flight.  The rehabilitation staff have been exercising this bird daily and typically encourage the owl to fly the length of its 45-foot flight pen about 10-12 times.  For the past couple of weeks, the Great Horned Owl has been flying the first three to four "laps" silently before beginning to fly with more effort.  The staff will continue exercising and assessing the owl daily. 

January 27 update

After more than two months of daily exercise and monitoring, Great Horned Owl #10-2051 was taken up to the Center's largest flight pen for further assessment.  When encouraged to fly the length of the 100 foot-long flight pen, the Center's veterinary staff could clearly see a difference in how the owl was using its wings.  The bird's left wing was not extended as much as the right one, causing it to fly slightly slanted and to the left in mid-flight.  The Great Horned Owl was also very loud during flight and struggled to maintain altitude. Unfortunately, with continued carpal problems in the owl's left wing, it will never be able to fly well enough to be released.  The Wildlife Center will seek placement options so that the owl may hopefully live on as an educational ambassador.

March 16 update

The Wildlife Center is "trying out" Great Horned Owl #10-2051 as an educational ambassador.  Environmental Educator Claire Thain will begin working with the owl to assess this possibility.  Since the owl came to us as an adult, the training process will likely be challenging -- the bird is still definitely wild!   Wildlife Center Treating "Celebrity"Birds, WVIR-TV [October 14] Famous Birds in the Care of Wildlife Center of Virginia, WHSV-TV [October 16] At the Wildlife Center, we treat to release.  Your donation will help support the Center’s life-saving work with this Great Horned Owl ... and with 2,500 wild animals in need.