Freeway the great horned owl
-- With nothing but a freshly mown wheat field full of fat mice before him (or
is it her?), Freeway the great horned owl leapt from the healer's hand Tuesday
and headed in exactly the opposite direction.
"He's actually going for the cover," said Washington State University
veterinary technician Angela Teal as the bird she'd nursed for the last month
swooped into a grove of trees behind Charles Hofer's home just south of Colfax.
Teal said it is difficult to tell the sex of a great horned owl without a DNA
test. So she gave the predator a gender-neutral name after the spot she found it
last month, injured on the side of U.S. Highway 195.
"Usually when you see something like that on the side of the road, it's not
supposed to be there," Teal said as a small group gathered in front of Hofer's
home for the 11 a.m. release.
It was dawn on June 24, and Teal was driving from her home in Colfax to work
at WSU. The College of Veterinary Medicine there deals with more than 100
injured wild birds each year, and Teal carries heavy gloves and cardboard boxes
for just such emergencies.
In the owl category alone, the college has treated a screech owl, a pygmy owl
and nine barn owls so far this year.
Teal's Good Samaritan streak doesn't only apply to birds. She just trapped
two orphaned coyote pups at the Pullman Cemetery. She thinks a third is still
out there and plans on trapping it, too.
She and the other employees and volunteers at the vet college perform such acts
of kindness on a strictly volunteer basis.
Freeway had some minor head trauma. "He was staring off into space. He didn't
know what was going on," Teal said. And a subsequent x-ray revealed a broken
radius bone in the right wing.
The scan also showed Freeway had recently stuffed himself. That led Teal to a
theorize about how Freeway got hurt.
"He was full of food when we x-rayed him, so he was pretty heavy," she said,
maybe heavy enough to keep him from flying above the traffic on the busy
Teal estimated Freeway's age at 2 to 3 years old. He weighed less than three
pounds, a smallish size typical of male great horned owls, she said.
Freeway was bandaged so his wing could heal, and was given food and a lot of
rest. The rehabilitation went smoothly, save for one incident.
"One morning he was out of his cage and was sitting on the garbage can," Teal
said. Owls are smarter than the average bird, she added, and Freeway had figured
out that his cage door was slightly ajar.
He scared the janitor. He said 'yeah, I didn't get your garbage.'
Bird bones are much less dense than mammal bones, so they heal quickly.
Freeway's bandage was off in three weeks, and he spent the last week testing his
healed flapper in a flight cage.
Teal said owls are usually solitary animals. But if Freeway had a mate, a
reunion is probably in store. She thought he might have a nest in one of Hofer's
barns near the spot where she found him.
State regulations require that rehabilitated animals be released within five
miles of where they are found.
Published: July 27, 2005 in the Lewiston
Byline: Joel Mills of the Tribune
Reproduced with permission