Can Owls Swim?

This is my most recent post to the North American Birding Blog….

Last night I gave an educational program on owls. I have to admit, had someone asked me whether owls swim I would have answered no. In fact, I may have flippantly responded “Can pigs fly?” Well, that was until today.

Today I responded to a call about an injured owl at the Chicago Botanic Gardens. As I arrived, the owl was in prairie grass about 30 feet from a creek. I approached the owl who started hopping away from me. It was immediately clear that the owl had an injury to its right wing. Convinced of my ability to recover this bird and thinking that the creek would provide the end to its escape path, I continued to approach the bird. I got within two feet and before I could grab for the bird, he again hopped toward the creek. I made a final reach as the bird hopped into the creek, head above water level and wings spread.

Shocked that the bird jumped into the water, I contemplated my next move. I took my coat off, I took my shoes off and then looking at the murky creek bottom, put my shoes back on. I removed the key fob for my car from my jeans pocket. I looked up at the employee who contacted us and asked, “How deep is this water?” She didn’t know. I stuck my foot in the water and pulled it back out thinking there must be another way. Wouldn’t you know that I hadn’t brought my big net on the extension pole?

The creek that the owl swam across

Fortunately, the owl wasn’t struggling in the water. I wasn’t having to life guard this owl at all. It kept its head above water and seemed to be moving its feet, almost as if it was kicking or paddling. The owl was making a direct path to the opposite shoreline – quite honestly, swimming better than I could have.

As the owl approached the opposite shore, it climbed ashore and stood several feet from shoreline not appearing any worse for the swim. I, on the other hand, now had one soaking wet and cold foot and still no owl.

Thinking better of trying to swim or wade across the creek’s cold waters, I asked if there was any way to drive to the other side. Thankfully there was….

The Botanic Garden’s employee Chrissy stayed on the owl’s original side of the creek while I drove around to the new side. With Chrissy standing on the original creek side waving her arms, I was able to approach the owl from the shoreline and he decided to move further from the creek rather than jumping back in. YES! I followed him through some standing water and then grabbed him.

Male Great Horned Owl immediately after recoveryMale Great Horned Owl immediately after recovery

The owl’s prognosis is very good. My feet are still warming up. My shoes are squishy.

We’ve named the owl Spitz. Oh, and by the way, Great Horned Owls can apparently swim.

Need I say more?
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