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Winged Kringle; Great gray owl on the mend

Great gray owl
Geoff Crimmins/Daily News Angela Teal holds Kringle, a great gray owl, while he wakes up from general anesthesia at the Washington State University veterinary teaching hospital on Monday. The potbelly pig is also a patient at the hospital.

Published: Dec. 25, 2004 in the Moscow-Pullman Daily News
By E. Kirsten Peters, staff writer
Reproduced with permission of the Daily News

Kringle the great gray owl had been living outside of Pierce, Idaho, but has come to the Palouse for Christmas.

"Idaho Fish and Game brought him to us. He has a couple of fractures (in a wing and wrist) and we think he may have been hit by a car or possibly flew into a wire," said veterinarian Nickol Finch.

Finch oversees the rehabilitation of a variety of raptors that appear during all seasons on the doorsteps of the veterinary clinic at Washington State University.

"We see about 300 raptors each year. About half of those are owls, mostly great horned owls and barn owls and some of the smaller species. A great gray is unusual," Finch said.

Local bird enthusiasts might remember a great gray that appeared near the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport two years ago.

"He caused a stir among the local birding crowd who went out to see him. More often you have to go north of Potlatch to see great grays. They are more at home in the woods," said veterinarian Erik Stauber, also with WSU's veterinary college.

The largest owls that pass through WSU are snowy owls. Some of the smallest are flammulated owls that eat more insects than they do mice. Other raptors that receive help at WSU include hawks, eagles and falcons. All are brought to Pullman, some by public employees and some by concerned citizens.

"We'll look at any bird that's brought in, but I don't go out looking for them, trying to track down an injured bird that's been sighted here or there," Finch said.

Unlike the horses and dogs that come to the veterinary hospital, the overwhelming majority of raptors in need of veterinary help don't have a person willing to pay the bills for the services provided.

"A few falcons have clients attached, namely their falconers, but basically the raptors are here on their own," Finch said.

"There are some good things about that, since we can do what we think is best for the bird without a client in the picture, but of course this program has to depend on people's donations and the help of the college to keep going."

There is no estimate yet of Kringle's total bill. "I've seen bills (for raptors) in the thousands of dollars. We appreciate whatever people can help us with," Finch said.

WSU's veterinary college began to care for injured and ill raptors in the 1960s. The birds now reside either outdoors in mews or inside in the exotic animal ward, which includes everything from lizards to rabbits to potbelly pigs.

Most raptors that end up at WSU have either been hit by cars or shot, while a few become ill after eating poisoned rodents. "A little more than half, maybe, are hit by cars. There's no (hunting) season on hawks or owls but some people shoot them. About a third that we see are in that category," Finch said.

Some raptors can be fully rehabilitated and returned to the wild. Often Finch and Stauber or their students band such birds before they are released.

"We had a starving, red-tailed hawk come in from the Moscow area and, after he was better, he was released from our mews here he's been found in Bozeman (Mont.) 16 months later," Stauber said. "One banded bird we had returned after 12 years so the banding helps us learn about longevity of birds in the wild and their ranges."

Great gray owls, like Kringle, are known for their ability to find mice under the snow. "They have very good hearing. The big disks around their eyes probably help," Finch said. "Great grays will perch above the snow and listen, then pounce. They can find mice from 6 to 18 inches under the snow."

Kringle, like most raptors that arrive at WSU, was quite thin when he met his veterinarians in Pullman.

"I'm sure that he couldn't hunt because of his injuries. Eventually, he was down and slow enough that someone near Pierce could catch him," Finch said. "Actually, I was a bit surprised that he lived through the first three days here."

A diet of dead mice and antibiotics has restored Kringle to better health, but there is only the slimmest chance that he'll return to the wild.

"We couldn't repair the wing, and birds need near perfect use of their wings in the wild. But the good news for Kringle is that great grays are unusual and therefore it's a lot easier to find a good place for them in zoos or educational programs," Finch said.

In the meanwhile, Kringle is going through basic rehabilitation and eating his way back to better health.

"If we can get him back to where he can fly a few feet, he'll be able to move from perch to perch and have a decent life in a good place," Finch said.

*Tax-deductible donations to the raptor program can be mailed to the College of Veterinary Medicine, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-7010.

E. Kirsten Peters can be reached at (509) 334-6397, ext. 310, or by e-mail at

Washington State University