By Scott Prater
Eight miles from the nearest town and surrounded by rolling hills of prairie grass, it’s easy to think of Schriever Air Force Base as a desolate place. A closer look, however, reveals a vibrant ecosystem.
Schriever is home to a multitude of plants and animals, from field mice to prairie dogs, rabbits to red-tailed hawks, each filling a role in a delicate, yet natural balance.
Some animals survive by scavenging for insects, others eat berries, grass and weeds. Natural predators play a role as well. They keep the scavengers and herbivores from growing too large in number, and thus ravaging the on-base foliage.
Doug Chase, 50th Civil Engineer Squadron environmental engineer, said rabbits can deliver as many as three litters a year. Luckily for Schriever, great horned owls find rabbits to be rather tasty.
Andy Jensen, 50 CES environmental chief, and Chase suspect one such owl went looking for a rabbit June 4, when it smashed into a window at the Schriever clinic. The next day, clinic members noticed something strange: a large bird, sitting on the ground with an awkward tilt.
A call to the 50 CES environmental office brought Jensen and Chase, who quickly surmised the situation and determined a plan to capture the bird.
“I distracted him while Andy swooped in with a net,” Chase said. “Once the bird was captured, we transferred him to a cardboard box and that calmed him down. He didn’t seem hurt, but we knew he was injured because he didn’t put up much of a fight.”
At 16 inches tall with 3-inch talons and a strong beak, the great horned owl could have delivered some serious damage to anyone attempting to capture him. Being experienced animal handlers, Jensen and Chase knew that the owl was a juvenile, was likely making its maiden flight and was probably suffering from a head injury.
They transported the owl to the Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center a few miles away within the hour.
“They started an intravenous line and tried to feed him right away but he wouldn’t take food,” Jensen said. “They called us a few days later and said he was finally eating, but that the official diagnosis was a head injury and his recovery time was unknown. Some owls never recover from these types of injuries.”
In the meantime, Jensen said the event is a reminder to people on base that we live in an area full of wildlife and if they notice wild birds or animals behaving abnormally on base, they should call the 50 CES Environmental Flight at 567-3360.
People can also contact the EWRC directly at 683-8152, especially if they discover an injured animal off base. The center is a nonprofit agency that operates on grants and donations.
“We’re fortunate to have a rehabilitation center close to us,” he said. “During the years I’ve been here, we’ve taken numerous animals there for rehabilitation, so they’ve partnered with us in a meaningful way. Unfortunately for the owls, it’s common for them to crash into windows, we have quite a few of the mirrored types on base.”
Jensen visited the EWRC the last week in June and saw the rescued Schriever owl flying, but still landing wobbly. Caretakers told him they could probably give him a week’s notice prior to releasing the bird back at Schriever if it makes a full recovery.