Orange You Homicidal?

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.

Check out the amazing assortment of wildlife cared for by Suzy Heck’s Heckhaven Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Lake Charles, Louisiana:    email:

Photo on right by Tony Northrup


About suziegilbert

I live in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley and have been rehabbing birds for over twenty years. I’ve written a memoir about the slippery slope all rehabbers eventually slide down, called “Flyaway: How a Wild Bird Rehabber Sought Adventure and Found Her Wings,” published in 2009 by HarperCollins; and a children's book called "Hawk Hill," published in 1996 by Chronicle Books. I also write all kinds of freelance content. Please see my website,
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4 Responses to Orange You Homicidal?

  1. Oh, for crying out loud. Owls fly into my studio all the time and of course I immediately spray paint them. Poor, poor dude! Just found you via Bill Thompson III of Bird Watcher’s Digest. Great writing, great stories. Keep it up! But don’t let it get in the way of those rescues…those phone calls…all those people needing help. I’m with you in spirit and in pursuits. I often wish I had no phone. Hang in there and keep writing!

  2. suziegilbert says:

    Thanks, Julie! Yeah, can you stand it? Of course if we had no phones, we wouldn’t get the spray painted owls. Sigh! Keep up the great work yourself!

  3. Dmitri Kasterine says:

    Your site is entertaining and informative. It also provides an additional aid for the rescue of birds. You are already the preeminent bird rehabilitation person, but I hope this site will inform even more people about your work.

  4. suziegilbert says:

    Thanks, Dmitri! I may be the preeminent bird rehabber in Garrison, but my knowledge pales next to some of my compatriots. Luckily they are incredibly generous with their time and expertise. Looking forward to posting some of their stories…
    PS. Folks, if you’re interested in a truly remarkable photography site, go to !

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