Early last weekend I picked up a voice message from June, an elderly landowner (I am sure she won't mind me saying that!) from over in the village of Leire. I have known June for a few years now, initially meeting her through my owling escapades. Although her message just asked me to call her back asap I could sensed by the tone in her voice that something was wrong? I immediately called her but there was no answer, so I left her a message asking her to call back again.
In the meantime I got on with clearing up the mess in the garden, we'd had very high winds the night before and there were branches and debris everywhere. I didn't hear my phone ring again but there was another voice message, it was June again. She explained that there was a huge brown owl in her outhouse and it didn't look too well. That was it, I downed tools, grabbed my camera and made my way over there.
Upon arrival June wasn't there, strange!! However, I went and explored the outhouse myself and my initial thoughts were proven correct when a Tawny Owl was located roosting up in the rafters. It didn't fly when I entered the building, which on its own was enough reason to suspect it wasn't well. I had a good look at it through my binoculars and there wasn't any obvious damage. It seemed very sleepy and only partially opened its eyes on a couple of occasions. Its hearing obviously hadn't been affected because its head would turn in my direction as I moved slowly around inside the building.
I then heard a car pull up outside, it was June. She had been down to the local garden centre and purchased a couple of dead mice! We discussed the possibilities of what had happened to the owl and where it may have come from. Was it a captive bird that had escaped from its aviary after wind damage the night before? Was it a juvenile that was struggling to find food? Or could it be injured and it had taken up shelter in the building? We hadn't got the answers but the most important thing was it seemed happy where it was so we left it alone. The two dead mice where placed on top of a wooded rafter nearby before we departed.
The next morning June called me again to say the owl had gone, the mice hadn't been eaten but she was happy that the owl could obviously fly, it had rested, recuperated and then moved on.......
Later on that day June called me again, the owl was back! Only this time it was in her back garden fully exposed on top of one of her arbors. An hour later when I arrived it was still in the same location and to make matters worse it was being mobbed by the local Tits and Robins! We came to the conclusion that it must be a sick bird. It was acting very strangely and I thought it's best hope of survival was for me to capture it, but how?
I wanted to gauge just how alert it was and how close I could get to it. Slowly I moved around the garden and whilst I did this it's head would turn in my direction, it knew I was there!
I moved nearer and it didn't flinch a muscle.
Even nearer still, it again didn't really open its eyes, just the odd squint.
I took my time and eventually I was inside the arbor looking up at it, I was certainly no further than two feet away! The problem I had now was there was a substantial piece of timber in my way, from the angle I was at there was no way I could have reached up and grabbed it. It then open its eyes wide and stared straight down at me, a few seconds passed before it registered what was going on and it took flight.! Luckily it only flew a few yards before it crashed landed wings akimbo in a bush, I moved in quickly and after a bit of panic wing flapping it was caught. June and I had had the foresight to prepare a cardboard box for its retainment so once captured it was carefully placed in the box before I departed.
It still didn't look well so my plans for looking after it were soon dismissed, it needed expert attention. So mum and I took the owl over to Leicestershire Wildlife Hospital., (please click on the link to go to their website and scroll down to the bottom for more info and pictures of the owl). They were absolutely brilliant at the hospital and they gave the owl an inspection as soon as we arrived. The birds limbs and wings were initially checked and all seemed well. They then checked inside its mouth for a disease called "Canker", click HERE for more details!! It appeared the owl was suffering from Canker and it was touch and go whether they would be able to treat it, the next 24hrs were going to be crucial.
Later the next day I called the hospital and it was good news!! They had administered some drugs and they seemed to be doing the job, the owl was showing signs of improvement and had even eaten two dead mice. A few days later I called again and sadly it was bad news, the owl had passed away during the night, dooough!! Unfortunately the disease had gone too far and they were not able to save it. But a big thank you must go to the team at the Hospital for at least trying, all the work they do is purely voluntary and they rely heavily on fund raising and donations to keep going.
Yes it was a sad ending but as the title of this post suggests, "it was worth a go".