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Written by Lead Wildlife Keeper Grae O’Toole
On August 5th, 2020 the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation (CWBR) received a Barred Owl from Bennington, VT. The finder of the owl noticed the bird hopping around their front yard, unable to fly away when approached. VINS staff advised the finder on how to safely pick up the bird and contain it in a box.
Upon arrival, the Barred Owl was thin at just 508 grams and very lethargic. Because the owl looked so depressed he was immediately put in an oxygen chamber and left alone to de-stress from the long ride to VINS. Barred Owls are commonly brought to VINS because they suffered head trauma due to being hit by cars, and offering patients oxygen on arrival helps stabilize the chemical imbalances in the body that can occur after suffering a head injury.
Next an initial examination was conducted to try and determine what physical injuries the bird may have. Staff found the owl unable to stand on its owl and ataxic (meaning the bird appeared to not have control over body movement) in this case the owl’s head was tilted sideways. No other major injuries were found, so this bird was just suffering from severe central nervous injuries. Since there were no other signs to indicate the owl had been hit by car (generally there is bruising in the ears, blood in the mouth, or eye trauma) staff suspected that the owl could potentially have West Nile or suffered toxicity. Both can cause severe neurologic damage.
West Nile virus can be spread by being bitten by a mosquito that is carrying the virus. It is much more commonly found in crows and ravens, but raptors and other birds can also carry the virus. Toxicity symptoms in raptors can be caused by any number of things, but given the lifestyle of Barred Owls the most likely cause is rodenticide poisoning. In both these cases generally the only thing that can be done is supportive care. This includes reducing stress, providing ample hydration, and making sure the patient receives healthy diet options.
After seven days of supportive care the owl began standing on his own. He was very unsteady on his feet, but was beginning to show signs of improvement. After seven more days he was able to stand and support his body and had even started eating on his own without staff help. After one month he was moved to an outdoor enclosure where he could stretch his wings and begin building up his muscle strength. After 75 days he was continually showing staff he could do strong, coordinated flights and given a clean bill of health.
On October 19th, 2020 he was released in Bennington, VT near where he was found. This is always a happy day for CWBR staff as we see these birds when they are at their worst- weak, dehydrated, emaciated, unable to stand, broken. When patients arrive it is hard to know whether or not they will pull through, but it is always comforting to see them healthy and strong, knowing we helped them when they needed it the most.
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