For the Birds Radio Program: Archimedes, Part II

Original Air Date: July 3, 2008

It takes a village to care for an education screech owl.

Duration: 5′08″


I’ve been living with an Eastern Screech-Owl named Archimedes since April, 2000. He’s an easy-going, handsome little guy who makes a superb education bird. In order to keep him and use him for education, I’ve been required to maintain state and federal permits. I’m working in Ithaca, New York, right now, and although I’m maintaining my Minnesota residency since my house and my husband are there, Archimedes has to have a legal permit in New York in order to be kept and used as an education bird here. So in January when I got here, the first thing I did was to write to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation for an application for a new state permit. Sometimes it takes a while for governmental processes to work, and it took until the beginning of May for me to get the application, apply, and for my permit to come through. Meanwhile, Archimedes had to stay home. It was hard for me living away from him. I particularly missed working upstairs in my home office at nighttime—he’d call to me and I’d call back for long, pleasant interludes. My son Tom moved his computer into my home office, and Archimedes quickly warmed up to him and started calling back and forth with him. Everything was going wonderfully even if I was getting a wee bit impatient for my permit to come through. And then disaster struck. Tom called one day and said Archimedes hadn’t been eating at all. Every morning the mouse seemed to be missing, but when Tom went to clean the cage that day, he found several days worth of mice in a corner, none eaten at all. As quickly as possible, Russ got him to two local rehabbers Farzad and Peggy Farr. Archimedes had been in perfect health except for being a bit on the heavy side, and when they examined him his weight was still higher than average. But he was not eating anything at all. They work with local veterinarian Leslie Clapper-Rentz, who consulted with the Raptor Center’s staff veterinarian Michelle Willette, and they had an x-ray taken. On very close examination, they found an obstruction in Archimedes’s esophagus. Apparently a pellet got stuck in there, and food couldn’t get past it at all. They also found that his liver was having some problems, probably as a result of not having eaten in so long. The barium before the x-ray was rather goopy, and was now coating the pellet, so the main thing they did to get the pellet out was administer a drug to increase motility in the digestive tract. Meanwhile, they kept him a day or two administering fluids, and when Russ got him back had to give him tiny pieces of uncooked chicken breast, which could slip past the obstruction. It took a few days, but finally one fine morning Russ found a pellet in the cage. And Archimedes was clearly digesting the bits of chicken. No more pellets could be produced until Archimedes was eating mice again, and finally Russ got the go-ahead to try feeding him some small mouse pieces. He watched closely each day for evidence that Archimedes’s digestive system really was working, from both ends. Meanwhile, he and Tom had to weigh him and administer a medication for liver function and hand feed him those tiny bits of chicken breast every day. Archimedes hadn’t had so much handling and care since he was rescued in Ohio as a baby. And Russ and Tom had virtually never had to handle him at all before this. I was frantic and frustrated by being so far away, but Archimedes was in capable hands, and quickly recovered completely. Finally, last week I brought him to New York. He was in a cat carrier for the long drive, and that’s stressful enough that he didn’t eat the night we spent in Chicago en route, but he’s back to his normal routine and now will be getting involved in Lab of Ornithology outreach programs. It’s lovely to have him with me again, and I owe it all to the Mona Rutgers at the Back to the Wild Wildlife Center in Ohio in the first place for saving him as a chick, and then to my sweet and competent husband and son, and to the Farrs, Dr. Clapper-Rentz, and Dr. Willette. Apparently it not only takes a village to raise a healthy child, but also to keep alive and healthy a little owl.