Throughout every season of the year, injured wild owls are brought into our Raptor Hospital.
An initial assessment of their condition gives an indication of how long their stay at the sanctuary is likely to be - on average, about 4 weeks. In every instance, staff will always go the extra mile to attempt a successful outcome - even in cases where fate seems to have decided otherwise!
The odds certainly seemed to be stacked against a forlorn Barn Owl brought in for treatment earlier in the year. It was back in May that the Barn Owl first arrived at the sanctuary, having been rescued by Lee Patterson. Lee had discovered the injured bird in a ditch in his village - it was very cold, very wet and both wings were bloodied. He was able to catch the bird up (a sure sign that things were not as they should be) and keep it warm, dry and quiet until S.O.S.staff were able to collect it.
On arrival at the sanctuary’s hospital facility, a close inspection of its injuries suggested that it had damaged both wings by banging them repeatedly against wire or netting. As the owl was discovered on farmland, it was likely that it had become caught in rabbit fencing and had persisted in struggling in order to free itself.
The extent of the owl’s injuries necessitated an examination by the vet, who also administered antibiotics and cleaned and dressed the wounds on both wings. The damage had also compromised the bird's ability to hunt, so the owl was suffering from severe starvation - the prognosis was not good.
Despite regular crop tubing (introducing food directly into the stomach via a tube) a successful outcome was not a forgone conclusion - the bird was going to need long term intensive treatment. A dedicated member of staff, Maz Robinson, took the owl into her care and proceeded to build up its weight and condition with regular feeding and lots of TLC.
After several weeks, the wing bandages were removed and the owl was able to start building strength and flight confidence in a secluded rehabilitation aviary. Things were starting to look positive. A release date was set for 10th. June and Lee was made ready to undertake this, in the vicinity in which he had originally found the owl.
At the eleventh hour, however, disaster struck! On catching up the bird for transportation, Maz was shocked to find that it had suddenly dropped half the flight feathers on one of its healed wings. Without two healthy, fully feathered wings, the Barn Owl could not be released - in order to survive, it needed to be in optimum condition.
Staff hoped that once the owl had completed its annual moult, its flight feathers would grow back. There was a chance however, that the feather follicles had been permanently damaged and the wings would never be perfect again. The only solution was to return the owl to the aviary…..and wait!!
FIVE MONTHS later, the Barn Owl was proudly sporting new feathers and was raring to go! Lee returned to the sanctuary to collect the owl - now christened Snoop by his young daughter! - for release back to its old territory.
A keen conservationist, Lee has shared the owl’s story and progress on a Facebook page entitled Rattlesden Wildlife Flora and Fauna and has inspired a new interest in wildlife in many of the residents of his village. Go to this page for more on the release of the owl which, after six and a half months, now holds the record for the sanctuary’s longest hospital stay!!