Great Horned Owl Gets Special Sendoff at Portland School after Soccer Net Mishap

By Kate Kaye, Portland Audubon Volunteer

A menagerie of owl figurines is perched atop a shelf in Brandi Miller’s second grade classroom at Portland’s Creative Science School. Her seven- and eight-year old pupils have immersed themselves in information about these and other wildlife in Oregon’s old growth forests as part of a story-centric method she uses to teach science, social studies, math, reading and writing. So, when Miller overheard talk of an owl stuck in a school soccer net that chilly February 28 morning, she grabbed a box and some towels, and ran outside to try and help the bird.

When she found the frail female Great Horned Owl, the bird was wrapped in a cocoon of netting and mud.

Some owls make clicking sounds when they are alarmed or appear to be threatened. Miller listened for the tap-tap-tap, but this owl was silent. “She seemed pretty resigned to being stuck,” she recalled.

Unattended netting is among the more dangerous materials birds encounter, though soccer nets have proven a nuisance or worse for deer who get caught fairly frequently in them, said Wildlife Care Center Manager Stephanie Herman. “The best solution is to store the soccer net when it isn’t being used, between games ideally, but at the very least during the off-season and overnight.”

It’s likely the Great Horned Owl struggled quite a bit in an attempt to break free, tangling herself even more in the process. By the time school staff found her, she had become quite ensnared in the net. Freeing the bird would be a delicate procedure.

Miller was able to get some of the net removed in order to separate the bird and place her in a box. But in the Wildlife Care Center hospital, it took another half an hour or so for Care Center Assistant McKenzie Joslin-Snyder to completely remove the remaining netting. Like many of the animals brought into the Care Center for rehabilitation, the owl was placed in a warm incubator and later administered fluids for rehydration.

Great Horned Owl ensnared in a soccer net.

Recovered from shock, back to a normal weight and flight-tested, the Great Horned Owl was ready for release in two weeks. However, unlike many quieter bird releases, this one became a well-attended sendoff, particularly when word got out to the school’s students.

“I knew that word was out…but I had no idea how many people would be there,” said Mary Coolidge, Portland Audubon’s Bird-safe campaign coordinator, who helped organize the release. In all, she estimated around 100 or more kids, parents and other wildlife appreciators showed up at dusk at the Creative Science School to see their new feathered friend return to the wild.

Roughly 100 kids, parents and other wildlife appreciators at the Creative Science School to see the owl released into the wild.

Kate Kaye is a volunteer at Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Care Center. A veteran tech and data reporter who has appeared on NPR’s On the Media, Weekend Edition Sunday and at events held by Yale Law School and Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, Kate is also the author of the book, “Campaign ’08: A Turning Point for Digital Media.”

Every year the Wildlife Care Center treats 3,000 injured or orphaned native animals. If you would like to make a donation to support our wildlife rehabilitation work at the Wildlife Care Center, click here.