On Thursday afternoon I was in the pickup with Ian, my step dad, driving home when his hawk eyes spotted a barn owl snoozing low down in a tree on the verge. We will often stop the car to observe any interesting animals we see but this time it was concerning to see a barn owl perched only a few feet above the ground, with its eyes closed and during the day.
Concerned for its safety and fearing it has been hit by a car and was therefore injured, I hopped out of the car and slowly approached the bird to see how it reacted. I got quite close before it attempted to take flight further into the wood behind, but he couldn’t gain any height. It flapped slowly and glided to the ground. I perused it closely. When it landed it looked exhausted. I clasped my hands over its back and wings and it hardly resisted. There was something clearly up. To keep the bird calm I tucked it under my coat, being careful not to get my hands in the way of its sharp talons, and headed back to the vehicle.
Quite coincidently we were all but a hundred meters from the home of a falconer friend. He has years of experience caring for birds of prey and has successfully rescued and released several before.
On arrival he sent us through to his outdoor shed to take a look at the barn owl. On removing it from beneath my coat and passing it to him it was clear the bird was very thin. He felt its breast bone which is a good indicator of a bird’s weight. The poor thing was just skin and bones.
Barn owls have incredibly light feathers which enable them to fly silently to hunt prey. Most birds waterproof their feathers by taking secreted oil from a glad located above their tail with their beaks and preening it through their feathers. Barn owls, however, don’t do this becasue they need to keep their feathers soft for silent flight. The lack of feather waterproofing makes barn owls extremely sensitive to wet weather and the horrendous amount of rain we have had and their waterlogged environment is most likely the cause of this barn owl’s suffering. With waterlogged feathers, it can’t hunt and is susceptible to getting cold quickly. Barn owls need to eat regularly to maintain their weight, so just a few days without feeding will result in a thin, weak bird.
Our falconer friend said he would care for the owl and try to get some food into him straight away. If the owl would eat, there would be a good chance of it surviving the night and putting on weight over the next few days.
We eagerly awaited news from our friend the next day. In the evening he called to say he managed to get some meat into the barn owl’s beak, which it gulped down. He then left meat close by it overnight. When he returned in the morning the meat was gone. We were so happy with the news.
Our friend is going to continue to feed the owl and monitor his weight over the next few days. The worry is that this horrible wet weather isn’t due to stop anytime soon so he will keep the owl in until the weather improves.
I’m looking forward to seeing the barn owl released back in the same spot we found it, when the bird is healthy and the weather has improved. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
It’s looking promising for our feathered friend. I’ll keep you posted on its progress.