The Barred Owl waited patiently in a cardboard box on Monday afternoon as his caretaker drove him to Tims Ford State Park, not knowing what fate awaited him next.
He has been through a rough time period since being picked up on Jan. 2 on Highway 130 in Winchester by county workers who found him injured by the side of the road.
The workers took the owl to Tims Ford State Park. Since the park does not have the facilities to rehabilitate injured or orphaned wildlife, Ranger Ashlie Cook took the bird to LouAnn Partington
who specializes in rehabilitating birds for Ziggy’s Tree Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.
Ziggy’s specializes in neonate (newborn) mammals and songbirds, but is also licensed to take larger birds, such as owls, hawks, ducks, geese and shorebirds.
Ziggy’s was founded in 2005 and incorporated as a non-profit in 2010. The center originated from a definite need for wildlife care, conservation and education in the Middle Tennessee area.
Ziggy’s operates out of two facilities — its avian facility in North Franklin County between Tullahoma and Winchester and its mammal facility in Lascassas.
Partington described the bird’s condition when she received him from Ranger Cook.
“A physical examination revealed there were no broken bones or obvious injuries, but the owl was thin and a little disoriented and, based on the fact that it was found near the road, we assumed that we were dealing with a minor head injury and some bruising and that the owl had been hit by a car,” she said.
The owl was then confined to a large crate so he could rest and recuperate and put some weight back on.
“He was treated to a gourmet meal of three to four mice each day (roughly about 10 percent of his body weight),” Partington said.
After three weeks of rest, he began to fly again and was moved to a large 60-foot flight cage to build his flight muscles back up.
“Since we don’t have a cage that large, one of our rehabilitation partners, Alix Parks with Tennessee Raptor Rescue in Signal Mountain, allowed us to use her cage for about 10 days in order for the owl to regain his strength,” Partington said.
Once Parks reported that he was flying well, Partington arranged to pick him up and return him to a safe area at Tims Ford State Park, since this was close to the territory where he was found.
“Since Barred Owls can begin their breeding season in late December, we wanted to get him as close to home as possible, as it is likely he would have a mate already,” Partington said.
Ranger Cook led the way to a quiet spot at Tims Ford State Park earlier this month. With long leather gloves on, Partington carried the precious cardboard box to the edge of the woods, opened it carefully and reached inside for a firm grip on her friend.
She hugged him closely for a few minutes while he oriented and looked around, surely sensing something wonderful was about to happen.
Partington raised her arm and loosened her grip, and the bird took off in a blur, without hesitation. However, the owl flew about 50 feet, lit on a branch for a few seconds to look back at Partington and Cook as if to say thanks, before taking to the skies once more over Tims Ford State Park.
Partington and Cook smiled as they watched that majestic occasion; these are such moments that caretakers of animals and nature live for.
About Barred Owls
The Barred Owl is a chunky, medium sized owl weighing between 1-1/2 to 2 lbs. typically found in dense coniferous or mixed woods near river bottoms or creek beds.
While they are chiefly nocturnal, they are more likely than other owls to be heard in the daytime. They have a distinctive call, which is frequently sometimes described as “who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all.”
They nest in natural cavities in tree trunks, in nests of larger birds (such as hawks) and in abandoned squirrel nests, usually 15-30 feet up. They lay 2-3 eggs, which hatch after about a month. Offspring are tended to by both parents.
“They initially leave the nest at about 4 to 5 weeks of age, and are what we call “branchers” — they can’t fly, but will hang out on branches near the nest waiting for mom and dad to bring them food,” Partington said.
These fuzzy little branchers start to fly at about 6 weeks of age, but stay with the parents, learning how to hunt until they are about 4 months old.
Partington advises: “As with most wildlife, the best thing to do if you find an uninjured baby on the ground is to determine if the nest and/or parents can be located and if the baby can be returned to the nest. While we can do a great job of raising orphaned babies, we are still a poor substitute for the real parents.”
Suggestions for how to determine if a wild baby actually needs human help, along with how to safely return uninjured young to the parents can be found on Ziggy’s website, www.ziggystree.org, or by calling 931-393-4835.
Anyone that finds an orphaned or injured wild animal should not attempt to feed it, Partington said.
“All wild birds and mammals have very specific diets,” she said, “and even 24 hours of the wrong type of food can have devastating consequences to a growing baby. The same is true for injured animals — if they are starving, food can actually be fatal.”
State regulations and federal law provide protection for orphaned and injured wildlife.
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issue permits to wildlife rehabilitators who have been trained to provide care for a variety of wildlife species.