Underwood: ‘Mom, I’ve hit an owl!’

November 15, 2013 

The column this past summer “The Power and Glory of the Owls,” by Duncan Shaw, (CHN, July 30, reminded me of our family’s experience with an owl.

One summer night my daughter was returning from dinner with friends when she came into the house in great distress.

“Mom,” she said, “I’ve hit an owl!”

As she was driving down the dark street and had almost reached our driveway, the bird flew into the side of the car. Her car was sitting in the middle of the road near the house, with the headlights shining on the sad lump of feathers.

While my daughter called the Animal Protection Society, I went to check on the bird, standing nearby and hoping that no traffic would come down the street. The creature barely moved, sometimes breathing rapidly and sometimes not seeming to breathe at all. It was a barred owl, a beautiful bird, with its large head resting on the brown and white breast and its wings folded at his side.

My daughter brought a box, a blanket and some gloves from the house. She had called the APS and although the wildlife attendant was about to go off-duty, she said she would wait for us to get to the facility. Carefully I wrapped the blanket over the bird and, lifting him into the box, and placed it on the backseat of the car. The Animal Shelter was several miles away, and I kept my hand on the box to make sure it would not fall to the floor.

As we neared the shelter, I was a alarmed to feel the owl stir in the box and shift his weight around. I could image the havoc even a wounded owl could cause if he managed to get loose in the small car!

Hurriedly I carried the box with the restless bird inside the building, where the attendant was waiting for us, her arms covered in long leather gloves. She took the owl from the box and ge

ntly began to examine him.

Suddenly, spreading massive wings that seemed to almost fill the tiny office space, the owl flew from her hand to the top of a door.

“Well,” the attendant said, “Perhaps he’s all right and was just stunned. You can take him back with you. They are territorial, you know, so he will need to go home.” She tried again to examine the bird –holding its claws more firmly now as she continued to inspect it.

I had visions of the recovering owl being stuffed back into the small box. I doubted I could keep him there for the nearly 10-mile journey and have us all safely arrive at our respective homes! Perhaps she saw the uncertainty in my face.

“On the other hand,” the attendant continued, “perhaps you should leave him overnight. His beak is bleeding, so I think we should wait and see how it looks in the morning. I live not far from you; if the owl is better tomorrow, I will bring him home.”

Relieved, we headed back to the house after telling the attendant that I would call to check on the bird. The following day I called the shelter. The attendant said the owl had recovered, and she had brought him safely back to the neighborhood.

I did not see him again, but for years afterward – often at dust or long after dark – I would hear him from my porch as “our” owl cried who, who, who, whoaah in the woods and sometimes from trees close to my house. Sometimes the bird would answer when I called back to him. I imagined that he was grateful to be home where he belonged.

Even now, many years later, I often hear owls calling at night. And although I’m sure “our” owl is no longer alive, I like to believe his descendants still live nearby.

Betsy Swint Underwood lives in Chapel Hill.

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