Along with wildlife rehabilitation we are witnessing incredible healing of incredible creatures. Being able to see these birds, mammals and reptiles up close is such a privilege that we never take for granted.
The challenge is when not to try, as there is a fine line between wildlife rehabilitation and torture.
All of us who do this job and do it well are distressed by this question. When to say when and when to euthanize an animal is the most difficult decision to make. With this beautiful Barn Owl, I could feel a difference in the wings telling me she couldn’t fly. This fracture was either in the joint or very close to it, so the chances of this bird flying again were slim. I made the difficult decision to put her down and bring her home.
When I got home, I decided to wait a day. She was calm, but standing and eating and thought I might see a slight improvement so I waited another day and then another. The amazing thing about these birds is also that they heal very quickly which is the key to survival.
Healing of chicks of prey can be as fast as 2-3 days. The challenge with the x-rays of these birds is that they can show a clear space between the bones, but healing can already be advanced without the calcium to show it. This is where a story matters according to avian vet Dr. Smith.
I hope that one day Tri County Wildlife Care can afford an x-ray machine, so we have it in our toolbox, although it can be difficult to read. I am still troubled that I decided to land this bird. As the days passed, I thought I saw improvement and wondered if my observations were just hopes for such a beautiful and aggressive bird. Every day, I put on thick, long-sleeved gloves to take her out to clean and change the crates. She would take my breath away with her pretty creamy white plumage.
After two agonizing weeks, it was time to call Pat Benik to see if she could get to a flight cage. I held my breath as Pat examined her and placed her crate on the ground to see if it would fly to a perch in a small cage. She does not have.
During the day Pat told me she was flying. I was incredibly happy and shocked at the same time. I was glad I was wrong and shocked that I almost ended the life of this bird. It is the angst we all face when making these decisions. Pat tells me that she can also see a drop from her wing, but that doesn’t stop her from flying.
This is another lesson we learned, birds don’t have to be perfect to be released. Wild creatures have a difficult life and many times I marveled at one-legged songbirds and even saw a three-legged deer which amazed me. The will to survive is strong and I have the privilege of working with a large group of volunteers who are passionate about wildlife and who simply work to give the creatures that come to us injured, sick or orphaned, a second chance to be wild and free. This beautiful Barn Owl is just waiting for her turn to enter our largest flight cage and then return to a life of FREEDOM.
Tri County Wildlife Care is a non-profit organization founded in 1994 dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of injured, sick and orphaned wildlife. We work with residents to resolve wildlife conflicts and imagine a world where humans and wildlife thrive together. If you have any questions or want more information, please call 209-283-3245 or visit www.pawspartners.org.