The Visitor

Halloween night, we received a phone call from Bradley on his way home from work. An owl had hit the side of his car, right at the top of our driveway.

He had turned around to check on it, and it was lying unconscious, with its legs in the air. Gentle heart that he is, Bradley picked it up, tucked it into his jacket and slowly drove home with the little bird snuggled against his chest.

The second we heard the news, we all jumped to action. Nana Steph grabbed an old cat carrier from the garage, and we found a dowel rod and some old towels to make a makeshift shelter for the little bird. Bradley pulled up to the house (very slowly) and handed the stunned owl to me.

She was so tiny. I had never seen such a small owl, and we all assumed she was a baby. She was alert by this point, and was firmly grasping my fingers with her taloned claws (she was really strong!) – I gently placed her on the dowel rod inside the carrier and left her to rest and recover.

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Snuggled peacefully in her temporary shelter

She slept quietly the whole night through, while we googled things like “how to care for wild owl” and “bird of prey sanctuary Spokane.” (We had no idea what to do in this situation.)

We researched what types of owls are native to the Inland NW, as we had never seen a bird quite like her before. We found that she was a Northern Saw-Whet owl, and not a baby at all, but a full-grown bird. (They are a tiny species of owl.)

I found the number of the local Audobon society and made a note to call them in the morning.

Then we all got some sleep.

The next morning, she was much more alert, opening her eyes and checking out her new surroundings. I contacted the Audobon society and they recommended we release her since she did not have any visible injuries.

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Before we did so, however, we wanted to make sure she wasn’t dehydrated or starving (larger owls often go long periods of time between eating, but small owls such as the Northern Saw-Whet owl need to eat frequently due to their high metabolisms). I drove to a pet store and bought some frozen mice, which we warmed and chopped into bite-sized pieces (that was super gross, I have to admit).

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Observing our new friend and temporary house guest

Then we gave her a little bit of warm sugar water to hydrate her, and fed her the grody mouse chunks. She gobbled them down, which made us so happy!!

While Bradley and I were busy chopping up mice and feeding the owl, Steph was out in the shop building a Saw-Whet owl box (from a plan she found on Etsy).

Even though we were releasing the owl in the same spot where she was found, we wanted to make sure she had easy access to shelter in case she still needed to recover, or needed a safe space until she could get her bearings.

Bradley installed the box high up in a fir tree and then climbed back holding the owl, and placed her at the entrance. (The photos aren’t great – he was pretty high up and my iPhone didn’t do a great job of capturing this moment.)

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Releasing the owl back to the wild

After Bradley climbed back down, we said our goodbyes and wished her well.

It was sad to see her go, but we hope she can easily return to her life as a gorgeous and wild creature. We are thinking of installing a wildlife-cam near the entrance to the owl box to see if we can capture any images of her (or any other Saw-Whet owls) coming and going.

In the meantime, we’ve been including, on our regular hikes, a visit to the fir tree where the owl box is installed and sending up good thoughts to our friend. (Emory Scout was absolutely in love with the little owl, and inexplicably decided to call her “Sally,” so our visits to the owl box are known as “going to visit Sally.”)

Spending a few days with this gentle and docile creature was an awe-inspiring experience for me, and the kids (as noted above) were completely smitten with her.

There was something humbling about being in the presence of this completely wild and yet vulnerable creature, and all we can hope is that we were able to help her in some small way.

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The Alwin-Marks Family

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