Near the end of October, Suzy Heck received this strangely-colored Great Horned Owl. According to the owner of a grass sod company, the owl “flew into a workshop, and the guys thought it was going to attack.” Oh, sure! I’m trying to imagine myself as a regular Joe, laboring in the workshop of a grass sod company, when suddenly – in broad daylight and for no apparent reason – a very large nocturnal predator flies into the building. What do I do? Naturally, my initial, knee-jerk reaction would be to grab a can of day-glo orange paint and spray it in the face, especially if Halloween is only five days away. Suzy posted it on our raptor listserv; the internet buzzed with outraged wildlife rehabilitators, none of whom bought the story. Suzy reported that the owl was outraged as well, and Great Horneds are not the easiest birds to handle, even when they’re in a good mood.
Suzy had to call the owner of the shop in order to find out what kind of paint it was, so she could figure out how to remove it. Luckily it was Rustoleum, a water-based paint, which could be removed by the wildlife rehabilitator’s tried and true method: Dawn dishwashing liquid. She separated the feathers around his right eye, which was stuck shut with paint, then let him rest for 24 hours before she got out the Dawn. “He’ll probably glow in the dark tonight,” she wrote on the day she took him in.
The owl developed a slight respiratory problem, probably from inhaling the paint fumes. But he recovered quickly, and will soon be released. Meanwhile, it is lucky that young Great Horned Owls are out of the nest and on their own, or this stupid stunt could have been fatal to a group of young owlets, who depend on both parents for food. When it comes to Halloween pranks, let’s try to leave the wildlife out of it.
Photo on right by Tony Northrup http://www.northrup.org