Shining a flashlight in the owl’s eyes to temporarily distract it, Lester Saulnier was able to safely scoop the injured bird from danger.
Saulnier, a mason, was responding to a call about a plugged chimney on Feb. 19 when he saw a woman pulled over by a garage in Meteghan Centre, trying to catch something hopping about in the parking lot.
“I thought it was a seagull at first but then realized it was an owl,” said Saulnier.
He says he had “no worries about the owl’s beak or talons” and snatched it up before it reached the road.
Owls and other birds of prey – also called raptors – are armed with two-to-three-millimetre-long talons and hooked beaks designed for gripping and tearing prey.
But when it comes to wild birds and animals, Saulnier doesn’t think twice about his safety … unless it’s a “major big animal.”
He’s helped injured animals all his life.
“Every time I find something, I bring it home and try to take care of it as best as I can,” he said.
In addition to injured cats, dogs and birds, he’s come to the aid of raccoons, foxes and others. He keeps a collection of cat carriers and dog crates on hand specifically for injured creatures.
The owl seemed a bit listless the next morning and Saulnier called Hope for Wildlife to see what his next step should be and to ask what he could feed it.
After four tries and no response, he contacted his local vet, who told him to try the Parade Street Animal Hospital in Yarmouth.
They asked him to bring the bird in. There it was examined by Dr. Kathleen MacAulay, a veterinarian with a lifelong interest in wildlife medicine. She has volunteered with the Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre (CWRC) since high school and is now a consulting vet for that centre. She also spent two years as a veterinarian working primarily with injured and orphaned birds of prey at the internationally renowned Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. At Parade Street Animal Hospital, she treats cats, dogs, exotic pets and occasionally injured wildlife.
The barred owl was given a full physical, including an eye exam, x-rays and initial blood work. Bruising on the neck was discovered, the bird was underweight and it had a heavy infestation of parasitic worms in its mouth and throat.
The owl was thought likely to be a male, judging by its small size, and would have hatched during spring 2018.
Liam Hanks volunteered to transport the owl to CWRC in Hilden on Feb. 22.
When contacted on Feb. 25, Murdo Messer, chair and co-founder of the CWRC, said the owl was doing fine.
“He’s eating (frozen mice) and being treated for internal parasites. There doesn’t seem to be anything broken and he’s pretty feisty, which is good,” said Messer.
“Once they’re stabilized and get their weight back up to where it should be, we put them into a larger enclosure to see how well they can fly.”
When it regains health, the owl will be transported back to where it was caught. “Most of these animals would have local knowledge of where to find food,” said Messer.
Oftentimes the trip back is by the same person who delivered it.
“A lot of times the people who bring them to us are quite happy to take them back. They may be regular commuters on that particular run,” said Messer.
On its website CWRC posted that there have been many cases of barred owls being struck by cars this winter, often on the 100-series highways. Collisions with cars often happen because the owl's rodent prey - and in turn the owls - are attracted to trash thrown from vehicles and littering roadsides.
What to do if you find an injured raptor
Contact Cobequid Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre or Hope for Wildlife, and/or your local Lands and Forestry office. Always be safe when handling wildlife. If it is visibly injured and you feel comfortable capturing it, use thick gloves and a blanket and be especially careful of the sharp talons and beak. The Raptor Center in Minnesota has an excellent page on this topic.