On December 26, 2010 Phyllis and John Cacoulidis found an injured great horned owl weak and face down in the snow near their home on Hope Island. With over 50 owls now typically admitted for the past few winters, this unfortunately is a story that many of our local rescuers are far too familiar with. The owl was boarded immediately onto their boat and brought him to Dr. Vassey in Portland, ME who in turn coordinated transport to Center for Wildlife. Center for Wildlife gladly admitted the owl whom had eye trauma, and with intensive and supportive care from staff, volunteers, and interns the owl regained full health except for perfect vision in his left eye. She worked up to our 100 foot flight enclosure and demonstrated excellent flight and potential survivability. The question that has plagued CFW staff and wildlife clinics nationwide then ensued…she was essentially blind in one eye but owls also rely on silent flight and their excellent sense of hearing for hunting and feeding themselves, so is it possible that she and other owls can survive without perfect vision? This amazing owl was the perfect candidate for our release study!
Thanks to your donations CFW was able to care for and medically treat the owl, and coordinate the first “On the Wings of Research” transmitter project. Staff were able to spend some time to draft a study, and raise initial funding for the transmitter and data collection and analysis for the life of the transmitter (approximately 1.5 years). This would allow us to track her seasonal movements, get a location for her every 4 days, and understand how well she can hunt and take care of herself in the wild with her disability. This information can then guide us to the best prognosis and care for one-eyed owls (can they be humanely released or will they starve to death?) along with understanding the best release practices- optimal timing and season for release, whether they are extremely site loyal or if they can be relocated, and much more!
This was an exciting release for all involved. "Mrs. C" was kind enough to invite CFW staff and volunteers, Biodiversity Research Institute staff, and everyone involved in this majestic creature’s rescue and care. We loaded the owl to the boat with excitement in our stomachs, and reached the owl’s beautiful habitat. We were welcomed with cider and donuts, and all walked together to an open field that faced the woods. The release honors were given to Sheila Rogers whom had answered the "call of the wild" and gave a major gift to help make this pilot project a reality. Staff transferred the strong and large bird to Sheila, and she opened her hands and the owl soared off and perched in a near tree. We were able to watch her take in her familiar territory, and she finally flew off into the night. As our Education and Outreach Fellow observed, “there was a lot of hope coming from Hope Island that night”.
We are so grateful to all involved, and have been happily tracking her movements ever since. Without your contributions we would never have been able to pull this project, materials, and research together which will prove to be invaluable to our work along with many other wildlife medical clinics. We have been happily tracking the owl's movements along her island habitats and are so pleased to report she is alive and doing well! We have also been amazed to find out that although she is built with a woodland owl's wings, she travels over the ocean and hunts at different islands almost every night. We will continue to monitor and track her movements, and look forward to this being the first of many patients that can be tracked post-release!
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