The great horned is the largest type of owl in the state. There is no official population count kept, French said, but he estimates that it is in the tens of thousands, and, while it has declined over the years due to habitat loss, is generally healthy. Named for the horn-like tufts of feathers that rise above their gigantic yellow eyes, great horned owls are fierce hunters that feed on rodents, rabbits, birds, and less savory fare.
“They frequently come in smelling very skunky, because they recently snacked on a skunk,” said Maureen Murray, the staff veterinarian who worked on Soccer Bird.
When the owl was brought in on July 25, he had a healthy layer of fat that suggested he was eating well. The clinic gave him fluids and a pain medication similar to ibuprofen. One of his elbows — yes, owls have elbows — was badly swollen, but he had no broken bones.
The clinic emphasizes the importance of keeping wild creatures wild, and the owl was handled as little as possible. Veterinarians took X-rays, and set him up in a small cage so he wouldn’t try to use his wing too much. As the owl healed, they moved him to larger cages to make sure his flight was strong.
While some birds of prey, like hawks, don’t mind an audience at their release, owls spook easily, so Soccer Bird’s final flight was done privately at dusk.
The owl, said Murray, is about halfway through the most dangerous stage in his development, when he must learn to hunt and survive on his own.
“The first year of life for a bird of prey is really challenging,” she said. “The majority don’t make it through.”
Now, he faces the winter.
His stay at the clinic probably won’t hurt his chances of survival, said Murray. For the owl, Tufts is likely to be a distant memory already.
“For the most part, I think they get out there and shake their feathers and sort themselves out,” said Murray. “I think they just go back to business.”
Evan Allen can be reached at email@example.com.