I simply stopped by to say hello to a vet and
ended up with Brownie the Brown Fish Owl (ketupa zaylonensis), who obviously
suffered a broken wing. Broken wings are not good, but Brownie was not my
first owl rehab. The Gray family took in dozens of burrowing owls as
Southern California expanded. I learned early that a contest between a bird
living in the ground and freeway heavy construction equipment, the heave
equipment always ends up on top.
Most of those burrowing owls either died early or flew free. One pair with
one irreparably broken leg each, LLB and RLB, ended up in our living room
cornice boxes until my Navy days. Raptors live by their talons, and back in
the 50's and 60's, broken legs were a virtual death sentence, especially in
a bird as small as a burrowing owl.
Brownie was different. There was no chance of resetting the broken wing, but
with physical therapy (PT), the bird might fly and hunt again. there was
only one way to find out.
I don't enjoy caged birds, but a flightless owl won't survive in the wild,
so I built a fly-cage. The walk-in cage gave Brownie room to exercise, and
hopefully fly, perhaps giving this owl the gift of freedom.
The rehab wasn't that easy. As you see in the photos, Brownie's right wing
drops far lower than the left. The broken bones were already knitted
together, so the PT was painful, and I had no falconer's glove. Every
morning and dusk, I perched Brownie on my wrist, and extended the wing's
range of motion ever so gently. When I hit the limit, Brownie let me know
with a piercing fashion. Then it was a half-dozen extensions just short of
The PT and luxurious diet of non-stop thin-sliced pork, chicken, beef and
frog paid off. Brownie still couldn't fly, but yearned to be free.
Near the end of the rehab, some rubber workers bought us this baby owl,
perhaps a Scopes owl, but in the juvenile form a precise identification was
difficult. The baby was extremely nocturnal, and never ate. It eventually
died, an all-too-often experience in the life if a rehabber. With the
exception of babies falling from the trees, when wild animals are healthy,
they shouldn't come in contact with humans in the first place.
One day I walked into the cage. Brownie sat on its roost, looked me in the
eye, and flew the length of the cage, rotating at the last instant, putting
on the brakes just as its talons grabbed the mesh netting. It was an amazing
display of owl dexterity, demonstrating the adroitness needed to hunt prey
such as field mice. Hanging onto the netting, Brownie looked backwards over
its shoulder and gave me a "Was that OK" look.
"Sure, Brownie,' I walked out of the cage, leaving the door open. When I
returned, Brownie was gone, hunting the valley already.