Owl found in road on way to recovery

This Eastern screech owl is undergoing thearapy at the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw.

The hardest part is letting go when your little ones leave the nest.

But in Maureen Chick's case, it's not a child leaving home. It's an owl that she helped rescue, then turned over to the Center for Birds of Prey.

The Johns Island resident was dropping her daughter's friend off May 23 on James Island. As she drove near the Lake Frances Drive Piggly Wiggly about 8:30 p.m., she saw a tiny creature in her path.

“It was paralyzed in the middle of the street,” Chick said.

She pulled off the road and approached the small owl slowly. It turned out to be an Eastern screech owl, standing perfectly still.

“It was standing — not moving,” Chick said. “I went closer and it didn't do anything.”

With veterinary offices closed, the owl spent the night at the Chick household.

Chick put the bird in a Louis Vuitton carrier bag while her family quickly researched how to take care of the injured bird. The family tried to give it some meat and gave it some sticks to hang onto.

“It didn't scratch at me,” Chick said. “It's like it realized that someone was trying to help it.” She said it only made a small peep-like noise.

The next morning the Chicks took it to the Center for Birds of Prey in Awendaw for better care.

Debbie Mauney, medical clinic director at Birds of Prey, suspects the owl was struck by a car, given its location.

“Our highest incident cause is collision, often with cars,” she said. “If they're hunting their prey, they're zoned in on it and they don't look left and right before they cross the road like our parents taught us.”

The owl is being treated for a fractured left scapula, or shoulder blade, confined in a body wrap to let the wing heal.

“Every three days we take him out of the body wrap and do physical therapy,” Mauney said.

The injury is being treated as a minor one, with a full recovery and release expected.

“He's eating well, he's active and responsive,” Mauney said.

Although it is a wild animal, Chick was sad to see it go.

“I told my husband, 'Can't we get a big cage and keep it?' ” she said. “But I know we couldn't.”

Mauney said she expects a recovery in three weeks, when the owl will be moved outdoors for flight training. It is expected to be released in five weeks.

“He's a very lucky little bird,” she said.

James D. Elliott Jr., executive director of the Center for Birds of Prey, opened the avian research and medical facility in 1991.

“We started as a medical center with a modest start to provide professional treatment for birds,” he said.

Before that time, Elliot said, injured birds in the state received treatment either out of state or from a good Samaritan who may be without the resources or know-how.

Now the center treats 400 birds per year statewide, releasing around 55 percent of the birds they treat back into their natural habitats.

Birds entering the center go through three stages of treatment: diagnostics, where their injuries and ailments are examined and treated; intermediate recovery, where the bird is given some weather exposure and begins rehabilitation; and a fitness level, where flight enclosures allow them the ability to train in similar environments before their release.

Not all birds are able to make it back to their homes. A bird may not be able to survive through the injuries, and euthanasia may become the best option.

“Our challenge is to be sure to do what's best for the bird,” Elliot said.

Reach Nick Watson at 937-4810.