Freeway the Great Horned Owl

Freeway the great horned owl

COLFAX -- 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 north-south highway. 
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 Tribune
Byline: Joel Mills of the Tribune
Reproduced with permission

Washington State University