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Expert Knowledge Saves Owl

Wing injury destines owl for euthanasia--but not at SFWC

  • Coming out of surgery, the Burrowing Owl is alert and ready for rehabilitation. Aaron Ansarov/SFWC

  • His wing wound finally healed, a Burrowing Owl rests after flying around his outdoor enclosure. Jim Fisher/SFWC

  • The Burrowing Owl is again able to fly and hover, crucial to evading predators in the wild. Jim Fisher/SFWC

  • Just released to his new home, the Burrowing Owl surveys his surroundings. Pilar Chavez/SFWC

Usually, an open fracture to a bird’s metacarpal bone, a strong bone near the tip of the wing that is crucial to flight, would be reason for euthanasia. But, in the recent case of a Burrowing Owl patient, South Florida Wildlife Center’s specialists’ specific knowledge of the species saved the patient’s life.

At the beginning of September, a member of Florida’s Seminole Indian Tribe stopped by the Center with a Burrowing Owl that had been found on the Tribe’s land. Most likely injured in a collision with a car, the bird’s wing bone was exposed, adding possible complication of infection to the already difficult task of healing a broken bone.

For most raptors, including other owls, extremely strong, accurate flight is imperative for survival, since they must hunt from the air and fly long distances in search of prey. However, unlike other owls who might build nests in elevated locations, Burrowing Owls nest in holes in the ground, sometimes borrowed from other species like skunks, armadillos, and tortoises. In addition to hunting from the air, these owls often catch insects and other small animals on foot, using their long legs to help navigate the ground vegetation in search of food. Knowing this, South Florida Wildlife Center Veterinarian Dr. Antonia Gardner decided to treat the bird as an alternative to euthanasia.

Following several weeks of wound cleaning and minimized activity to allow the fracture to heal, our Burrowing Owl patient was moved to an outdoor enclosure to complete his rehabilitation. Dr. Renata Schneider, South Florida Wildlife Center’s Director of Wildlife Rehabilitation, has observed that he flies well in his small flight cage, despite tiring after approximately ten laps around the enclosure.

Due to the fracture, his wing will never be perfectly straight, and it droops slightly during flight. Nevertheless, both Dr. Gardner and Dr. Schneider are confident that once fully recovered, the owl will have the strength and ability to evade predators and other threats if necessary. With the cooperation of the Seminole Indian Tribe, he will be released in the location where he was found. The area has active owl burrows and plenty of food sources.

Update: In early November, 2013, the Burrowing Owl was successfully released. Watch the video here:

If you encounter injured or orphaned wildlife in the South Florida region, please contact South Florida Wildlife Center immediately by calling (954) 524 - 4302.

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