Two weeks ago I had a phone call at work that someone was bringing in a Snowy Owl that wasn't doing well. I had gone away from the office and when I got back there was a small box on my chair containing this wee Saw Whet Owl (hard to confuse with a Snowy). He was quite emaciated and couldn't use his legs very well, which are both common side effects of West Nile Virus. However, I thought it was worth a go to give him the benefit of the doubt and get some food into him.
He came home with me into a smallish kennel on top of the bunny cage in the bathroom. Several people wondered if the bunny, a Jersey Wooly, felt intimidated by the owl but I reassured them that the rabbit was at least six times larger than the owl. Neither of them seemed to care much about the other. See, this owl is small enough to fit into the palm of my hand.
"Morpork", the saw whet owl, enjoys a close familial relationship with the Boreal Owl on the label of Bell's Best Brown Ale (Will's favorite beer), a Michigan crafted ale.
He seemingly enjoyed having his head stroked, and went into a trancelike state!
The first few times he was fed I had to open his beak and push little bits of raw beef partly into his throat, but after a few days he eagerly grabbed them. Still, after a week he was not able to stand up on his own legs so he remained propped up in a slipper. After the 10th day he decided to start grabbing at the meat with his feet and use his legs more often and took a few test flights in the house!
We finally felt that he would be able to be released at the end of last weeks...15 days after we started feeding him. He made a brief appearance in the fouth and fifth grade classrooms at the Three Lakes Academy where we talked about owl biology (asymetrical skulls, zygodactic feet, silent flight feathers etc...) and the importance of maintaining dead/declining trees in the forest for cavity nesting birds.
We had a couple of Kestrel boxes and decided to put one up in the woods behind the house just in case he wanted or needed to come back. It is also nice to think it could be used by other cavity nesters.
So about twenty feet up into the air on a sugar maple went the box, and Will gently placed Morpork inside.
He stayed in the box about 5 minutes before popping into the hole (click on the picture to biggify), and after a short tumble and recovery he flew off deeper into the cover of some cedar and hemlock. I hope he is going to be able to hunt on his own and recover fully, but if not, it is a more dignified death for an owl to die in the woods and we did what we could to help him and he enriched our lives for the few days he was here.