Timing is Everything

Posted on 26 February 2014 by Dawn Keller

I hate getting calls on injured raptors during nesting season. So when we received a call on an injured Great Horned Owl first thing this morning all I could think about was whether it had an active nest.

If it was a female with a brood patch (an area on her lower abdomen where she pulls out her feathers so that the warm skin rests directly on the eggs, or later, on the owlets to keep them warm), we would need to release her right away for the eggs or owlets to survive in these extremely cold temperatures. I would be somewhat surprised, however, to find a female off the nest this early in the nesting season - especially with last night's -3 degree Fahrenheit low temperature.

If it was a male, then the female would be back at the nest waiting for him to hunt and provide her and the owlets with food. If he didn't return promptly, then she would be forced to leave the nest, thus exposing the eggs or owlets to the cold temperatures and possible predation.

When we arrived, we found a male Great Horned Owl entangled in Christmas lights - the kind of Christmas lights that are like netting - easier to put up but much more likely to cause entanglements.

We proceeded to unplug the Christmas lights and began to cut them off of the owl. The lights were badly entangled around one wing. We covered his head, as possible, to reduce his stress.

Check out the nictitating membrane in this last picture. It is basically the third eyelid smile.

Once we removed the lights, we did a quick exam and found no fractures, tendon damage or significant bruising. Rather than bring him back to our Barrington facility for flight testing (we were just over an hour away), we decided to test him on a creance in a nearby field. We'd come prepared to do this just in case....

We went back to the van and drove to a nearby soccer field. We then proceeded to put on removable alymeri anklets (the leather things with the grommets) and jesses (the blue things you see in the picture).


(How do you like my owl mittens? And what about those talons?!)

We then took the owl to the middle of the soccer field and attached his jesses to a creance. A creance prevents a bird from flying away and slows him down gradually so that he doesn't injure himself. Back before flight chambers, many rehabilitators only creance trained their rehabilitation birds prior to release. It's really a suboptimal way to recondition birds, but it's fine for a quick test since this bird's breast muscles hadn't yet atrophied from an extensive time in rehab.


He flew strong on the creance, so back to the van we went where we removed the jesses and temporary anklets and then drove him home for release.

Good luck, Buddy!

By Ruth Mitchell
26 February 2014 at 10:01 PM

Fly away home and feed your mate and your babies!!!!

By Alice Witt
27 February 2014 at 08:01 AM

Such a wonderful and heartwarming story. Thank you, Dawn, for all you do for our wonderful wildlife. Raptors are my favorite, but I support all you do for all wildlife, from the tiny toad to the coyotes to the deer last week. smile

By Alice Pittman
27 February 2014 at 08:29 AM

Great,great story with a wonderful ending.

By Therese Davis
27 February 2014 at 09:35 AM

You forgot the moral of the story:  Christmas lights can injure or kill. Use less harmful decorations outside or none at all.  Wildlife already faces a myriad of harmful human obstacles in every day life; roadways, windows, harmful trash like fishing lines and hooks, poisons, traps, etc.

By Cynthia Staples
27 February 2014 at 10:38 AM

Great job, Dawn!  Listen to those crows!  Horrified, they are.

By Carolyn Delfs
27 February 2014 at 12:31 PM

Release of any raptor or other animal back into the wild where it belongs always brings tears to my eyes.Because I know one of the rescuers in this case, My eyes would not contain the tears. They spilled over into a full-fledged sobbing episode. I love GHO’s and the fact that the rescuers got there so quickly and knew exactly what to do to get this beauty back where he belonged melted my heart! Thank you so much for the wonderful work you do!

By pattik
28 February 2014 at 01:11 AM

wonderful! so glad he was ok.  I am watching a nest cam now of just that, a GHO nest.  They have 3 babies and are really great parents.  Great job Dawn as usual. By the way Boudicca had a very large squirrel the other day that was a fresh road kill.  She totally enjoyed it.

17 March 2014 at 08:14 AM

What a good job! Dawn, you good things are inspiring. Everyone could teach of you.

By Sandy McGee
8 June 2014 at 12:22 PM


As usual great work. I’m sorry I’m just reading it now.
Those talons were huge!
Again - excellent work.

2 September 2014 at 10:19 AM

A great story. Made my day.

By Ninette
2 October 2014 at 08:20 AM

I just wanted to say, May the God bless you for all of your kind heart, to you and all of those people who work and help to rescue any animal, they all have a right to live a good life, humans have affected tremendously their life, we are indebted to them.  I myself help when ever I can, people make fun of me for rescuing snakes, mice, spiders, etc. but I believe all have a place in this world. So kudos to you all!.  It gives me hope that the human may have a chance after all! CNU

By Dina
2 October 2014 at 10:04 AM

May God bless you 100 fold financially, spiritually and emotionally for all the crucial work you do to save and protect wildlife,

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