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Owl Caught by Fishhook



Story and videos by Alison Hermance

After two weeks in care, the Great Horned Owl that had been tangled 40 feet high in a tree with fishing line and a fishhook through his wing was set free!

It was a gorgeous evening, perfect for returning this beautiful bird to his home in the wild!

Watch the video above to learn his remarkable story of survival, rescue and recovery, then please consider a generous gift to ensure all WildCare's patients receive the care they need to fly free and return home again!

 Our owl being released. Photo by Sarah Pownall
Photo by Sarah Pownall
The owl just before release. Photo by Nick Fain
Photo by Nick Fain
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help wildcare meet a $20,000 challenge grant from our Board of Directors!

Exam, x-rays, fluids, bloodwork-- proper treatment and care for a patient like this Great Horned Owl is expensive! Comparable treatment at an emergency veterinarian's office for a domestic pet would cost more than $500, and the cost of ongoing daily care, medication and feeding would cost much more!

To date WildCare's Board of Directors has pledged $5,500 to the fund, but we must meet our $20,000 goal to receive that amount!

Your donation and this match will help us ensure that all our patients have the best chance at survival in the wild.
To receive this matching grant we must raise $20,000 in donations by the end of December. You can help us meet our goal!

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This Great Horned Owl's Story

The call came to WildCare's 24-hour Emergency Hotline around 7pm. A Marin Humane Society officer needed help with an entangled Great Horned Owl. Neighbors had seen the owl in the tree for three days, and observed he never moved from his perch, even when crows attacked him. With night falling and a torrential rainstorm in progress, the neighbors realized the bird needed rescue and contacted the Marin Humane Society (MHS).

Faced with a full-grown owl high in a tree, the MHS Officer contacted WildCare for help. We put her in touch with our Hungry Owl Project (HOP) and volunteer Jim Cairnes of Small World Tree Company. Jim is WildCare and HOP's go-to volunteer for high-altitude rescues. A 40-foot climb in the pitch dark during a howling rainstorm to collect a waiting Great Horned Owl is a daunting prospect, but Jim's an expert.

  Great Horned Owl being examined. Photo by Alison Hermance
  Heavy gloves protect Melanie as she examines the owl's wing. Photo by Alison Hermance

To Jim's surprise when he reached the owl, he discovered a fishhook speared through the top of the bird's wing, and fishing line holding him fast to the branch. It is incredibly unusual to see an owl caught in fishing line, although hopelessly entangled water birds like gulls arrive at WildCare nearly every day. Click to read more about wildlife and fishing line, and find out how you can help!

Dodging lethal talons and a sharp beak, Jim managed to cut the owl free, and, placing him gently in a box, lowered him to the ground. With concerns that the wing would be damaged beyond repair and prognosis unknown, the Marin Humane Society Officer transported him to WildCare for emergency care.

emergency treatment at wildcare

As this was long after WildCare had closed for the night, Director of Animal Care, Melanie Piazza had to unlock the Wildlife Hospital and warm the examination room to prepare for the owl's arrival. When all was ready, Melanie pulled the owl from his carrying box. Although small for a Great Horned Owl, he was still a large bird, and despite his three-day ordeal, he was feisty and ready to attack. Heavy gloves protected Melanie from inch-long talons as she examined the wing.

To her immense relief, the hook seemed to have only pierced the skin of the patagium (the front edge of the wing), somehow missing the underlying tendon and bone. A gentle examination showed no obvious fractures either.

To be sure, x-rays were taken which revealed the size of the hook, and again revealed no significant damage to the wing.

After removal of the hook under anesthesia, the owl was placed on antibiotics because fishhooks can be very dirty and often lead to infection .

As of this week, he is stretching his wings in our largest aviary to build his flight muscles back up in time for release hopefully next week!

Watch him in the video below as Medical Staff tests his flying ability in an outdoor aviary!

  X-ray of a Great Horned Owl with a fishhook in his wing.
  This x-ray clearly shows the hook embedded in the owl's right wing. Also note the characteristic skull of the Great Horned Owl with its huge eye sockets. Photo by Melanie Piazza
   Where the hook was. Photo by Alison Hermance
  The hook had punctured the skin of the patagium, the front edge of the wing. It somehow missed tendon and bone. Photo by Alison Hermance

why are owls admitted to wildcare?

Right now in the Wildlife Hospital, WildCare has six adult owls in care-- a Barn Owl, three Screech Owls, our Great Horned Owl and a tiny Saw Whet Owl.

When asked why owls are admitted to the Wildlife Hospital, Melanie Piazza, Director of Animal Care at WildCare said, "Most of the owls WildCare admits arrive with head trauma. It is common for owls hunting along the sides of roads to be hit by cars. Drivers often say the bird came out of nowhere and they weren't able to swerve fast enough to avoid hitting him."

"However, another common reason we admit owls, especially Screech Owls, is that they fall down chimneys! Screech Owls are cavity-nesters, and they seek out cavities as roosting spots. Your chimney looks like an inviting roosting spot to a Screech Owl, but he doesn't know the entire chimney is hollow, and if he loses his grip, he'll end up in your fireplace!"

Melanie continued, "The owl in these photos is a little Saw Whet Owl who was found on the side of the road. His rescuer thought he might have been hit by a car, and his head trauma and wing injuries confirm that suspicion. He has damage to his coracoid (like a human's collar bone) so we wrapped his wing to immobilize it and give the fracture the opportunity to heal."

  Saw Whet Owl in the Wildlife Hospital. Photo by Alison Herma
  This little Saw Whet Owl was admitted with head trauma. He was most likely hit by a car. Photo by Alison Hermance
  Saw Whet Owl having his wing wrapped. Photo by Alison Herman
  It's challenging to wrap an owl this small! This bandage wrap will immobilize the bird's right wing and allow the fracture to heal. Photo by Alison Hermance

Help us treat patients like this Saw Whet Owl!

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