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Barn Owl’s Pit Stop on a Downtown Portland Balcony Was a Wise Survival Tactic

Posted by Kelsey Kuhnhausen at Jan 17, 2019 03:40 PM |

A young Barn Owl found its way up to an 18th floor condo terrace on on SW 10th avenue. Little did the raptor know it might not make it back to the wild for quite some time. It was a morning in October when Michael Anderson spotted something moving out on the terrace from the corner of his eye.

By Kate Kaye, Portland Audubon Volunteer

Birds appear on the balconies high atop Downtown Portland all the time. Even tiny Hummingbirds make their way up to the double-digit floors to slurp nectar from feeders. But this had to be the first time a young Barn Owl found its way up to an 18th floor condo terrace on on SW 10th avenue. Little did the raptor know it might not make it back to the wild for quite some time.

It was a morning in October when Michael Anderson spotted something moving out on the terrace from the corner of his eye.

“Lo and behold, there was an owl out there,” he recalled.

The bird was having a tough time of it, though. The terrace’s translucent glass barrier was nothing like anything it had encountered in the wild, and the owl simply could not negotiate its way over it. So, Anderson put a chair out on the deck. Perhaps the heart-faced creature could hop up and fly over the glass and its metal railing that way.

It did not help that the owl was sapped of energy. It was dehydrated and starving, likely in distress as it searched for prey. The farther it traveled from home in search of food, the more disoriented it may have become.

The chair on the terrace wasn’t helping, either. So, Anderson called the Portland Audubon’s Wildlife Care Center for guidance. Our wildlife rehabilitation experts told him if the owl did not move from the terrace soon, the bird should be brought to the Wildlife Care Center for assessment.

When the bird showed no signs of improvement, Anderson brought the owl up to our Wildlife Care Center.

It often comes as a shock to people that owls share our urban landscape. In the city of Portland you can find Great Horned Owls, Barred Owls, Barn Owls, Northern Pygmy Owls, Western Screen Owls, and Northern Saw-Whet Owls. And sometimes those birds get caught within the maze of buildings, like the Barred Owl who flew into the Apple Store window in downtown Portland. While we can’t know for sure what depleted this bird’s energy, we do know that if it was going to survive, it needed intervention.

Today, the Barn Owl is calmer, healthier and stronger, weighing around 482 grams.  

Barn Owl in Flight Cage
The Barn Owl recovers in one of our flight cages

But it took some time to get here. After being rehydrated with subcutaneous fluids and nourished with mice, the owl began to gain weight and recover. Today, nearly three months later, the bird is in a Portland Audubon flight cage and in excellent health, flying with vigor and able to hunt live prey.

But it’s not time to return to the wild just yet. For this Barn Owl, the flight cage will be home for a bit longer. “We're concerned about its ability to survive if we were to release it in the middle of winter,” explained Wildlife Care Center Assistant McKenzie Joslin-Snyder. “We plan to support it through the winter in our flight cages and start introducing a variety of live-food options prior to release to get it as prepared as possible for life in the wild in the spring.”

Considering the owl’s difficulty obtaining food in the warmer season, Care Center staff expect its chances of survival to be far better after freezing temperatures have subsided. Wildlife Care Center Manager Stephanie Herman added, “A spring release will give us time to condition and prep the bird, and will also ensure food is plentiful in the wild when it is back on its own.”

Barn Owl Downtown Portland
 
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."
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