For the Birds Radio Program: Rescue!

Original Air Date: March 24, 2009 Rerun Dates: March 16, 2015; March 28, 2014; March 12, 2013; March 30, 2012; March 22, 2011; March 24, 2010

Laura was in the right place at the right time to save a chickadee entrapped in a bird feeder, which reminded her of a time long ago when she was in the right place at the right time to help save a Barn Owl.

Duration: 4′55″


Saving birds This weekend I happened to be at work when we had an emergency. A family walking along the trails at Sapsucker Woods came upon a chickadee that had managed somehow to get its head stuck inside a bird feeder, and could not pull itself out. They took down the feeder and walked it to the visitor center, and I got called down to help. The feeder was a design that was tricky to take apart, and the ten minutes I worked on it could easily have been the chickadee’s last, but I finally got the top unscrewed and then there was a clear path through to free the little guy. Much to everyone’s relief, he flew to a nearby perch, got his bearings, and flew off. There’s not a better feeling we humans are capable of than the satisfaction we get from literally saving someone’s life. I of course felt pretty darned happy about how it all turned out, but the family who found the bird and brought the feeder to us were the real heroes. Had they not noticed and stepped in in time, the little chickadee would have died. They stayed with me the whole time I was trying to figure out how to dismantle the feeder, and their relief when the chickadee flew off was palpable. When I told KUMD’s Lisa Johnson about it, she mentioned a recent tv show about rescuing an owl that was badly injured on a barbed wire fence—some of the injuries were irreparable, but the bird is apparently living a decent life in captivity as an education bird who also serves as a foster parent for orphaned owls. But that reminded me of another owl-fence episode when I got to help save the life of a bird. I was on a Minnesota Ornithologists’ union field trip to southeastern Arizona, and early one morning we set out for a before-breakfast birding jaunt. As we drove past some farm fields, we saw what looked like a dead raptor hanging by some red ribbon to a barbed wire fence. I saw with my binoculars that it was a Barn Owl, and since we hadn’t seen a live one of those, wanted to stop so everyone could see how lovely their feathers were. When we approached the bird, suddenly its wings fluttered—it hadn’t been hung up by an angry farmer—one of its legs, dangling while carrying prey—had been snagged on a barb. Sure enough, we found a headless pack rat on the ground. It was very tricky to unhook its leg. The skin had been sliced through in a gash about 2 or 3 inches long, and in struggling, that leg was also badly abraided, and the other leg had a bunch of injuries from thrashing against the barbs, too. After it had been removed from the fence, I took a good look at its eyes—one pupil was fixed and dilated—it was going into shock. Although it was barely 6 am, the temperature was already well above 80 degrees, and the poor thing would almost definitely have been dead if we’d stopped to look at it on the way back. I gave it some Gatorade and water, but there was not much else to do to help it with the stuff we had along. And there was nothing open that time of day. That was before cell phones, but we found a payphone and called the nearest veterinary hospital, leaving a message on the machine that we’d be dropping off the owl at 8 am. Meanwhile, we punched holes in the top of a Styrofoam cooler and put the poor thing in there and brought it to our birding spot where we kept it in a shady spot. Then we dropped it off at the vet clinic. They’d received our message and already had both a veterinarian and a wildlife rehabber ready to take it. The bird wasn’t in shock anymore thanks to the Gatorade. The leg needed sutures, and they had to administer steroids and antibiotics, but the bird was fully recovered within a couple of days and they released it at the exact mile marker where we’d found it. Well over a decade later, I still feel a surging glow of satisfaction when I think about that owl. And now I’ll have that same happy feeling about a chickadee.