By Scott Prater
Team Schriever members released a Great Horned Owl back into “the wild” Tuesday.
In this case, “wild” turned out to be the base softball field parking lot.
“There are plenty of trees around and they provide a nice landing spot for our owl,” said Andy Jensen, Schriever’s Natural Resources Program manager. “The goal is to help the bird get its bearings and adapt to life outside of a cage again. We like to release wild birds back into the area where we found them, and this is really close.”
Rewind several months to this past May. A few Team Schriever members working in Building 712 discovered an odd scene as they stepped outside — a wild bird behaving in a peculiar manner.
Merely seeing a Great Horned Owl during the daytime qualifies as odd, according to Jensen. The predatory birds prefer to hunt at night, so most people don’t even know they exist.
Sensing that something was amiss, the workers notified the 50th Civil Engineer Squadron’s Environmental Flight. Al Fernandez, 50 CES environmental engineer, responded to the call.
Fernandez arrived to find what he determined to be a Great Horned Owl hunkering on a metal grate near the building’s loading dock. Standard practice for dealing with wild birds that wander into populated areas is to assess the situation and leave the bird alone if it doesn’t present an eminent danger. But Fernandez had a feeling this one might be injured.
“It was scared and confused,” Fernandez said. “Jensen normally deals with these animals on base and since he was on leave I decided to call the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service representative at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado.
Max Canestorp, a USFWS biologist, responded and surmised that the owl was simply young, weak, alone and inexperienced. Regardless of how it ended up at Building 712, it was clear the bird would most likely not survive if left to fend for itself.
Capturing the bird was no easy feat. Sporting 3-inch talons and strong beaks, Great Horned Owls can deliver serious damage to anyone attempting to grab them. Using extreme caution, Canestorp managed to get the owl in a cage and transport it to the Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center roughly five miles away.
Upon examination of the owl, experts at the non-profit rehabilitation center couldn’t find any injuries, but they determined the bird was very young.
“They have a mature Great Horned Owl at the center that’s been there for several years and they use her as a surrogate mother to help the young owls along,” Fernandez said. “The owl we found here has been, ‘growing up’ ever since we dropped her off back in May and she was ready to come back home.”
Donna Ralph, owner of EWRC, confirmed that as young, hungry and weak as the owl was when it arrived at the center, it was unlikely to have survived on its own.
In the past couple of years, Jensen and the 50 CES environmental flight team have released two other owls as well as a Ferruginous Hawk on base.
“Considering the sheer number of owls and hawks that live on or near the base, we really don’t deal with that many,” he said. “Birds all over the world are injured or killed after flying into buildings. As for us, we wouldn’t be releasing so many wild birds back into the wild if we didn’t have a bird rehabilitation facility nearby.”
For information on wildlife at Schriever or to report an injured animal, contact the 50 CES Environmental Flight at 567-3360.