Roadside Assistance

12 08 2011

Barred Owl - John Deakins

The other night I popped out to play pool with a friend and take an evening off from thinking about birds and birding. It seems like the darned things just follow me around though 😉 As we were driving back along Riversville Rd in Greenwich I spotted a seemingly injured creature that was still moving around on the side of the road. I asked my friend to turn around and we went to check out what this mystery road accident was and whether we might help.

To my surprise and dismay, as we drew close and bathed the creature in our halogen headlights, it turned out that our poor unfortunate was in fact an owl, and a rather beautiful Barred Owl at that.  Using the car to block the road (and the owl from another drive by collision), and with emergency lights flashing, we got out of the car to survey the situation.

The owl was perched gingerly on the tarmac looking rather dazed and confused, but still with it enough to acknowledge my presence. As I approached closer it snapped it’s bill a couple of times in a somewhat vain attempt to ward me off. Recalling past experiences with injured wildlife, I realized the first thing we needed to do was try and calm the bird down. Luckily my friend had a blanket in the back of the car and we quickly had it draped over the owl. I’m not totally sure why this is calming to birds? If I was happily (or even unhappily) out on the street and someone threw a blanket over me I think it would cause me more stress than it relieved 😉

Barred Owl - John Deakins

It was about this time another car pulled up to see what was going on. I think it probably looked fairly suspicious with us standing by a car with the emergency lights on while a small, blanket covered form was sat in front of the car highlighted by the beams of headlights, however when we explained it was an owl the driver seemed relieved or maybe satisfied that something more terrible hadn’t happened and went on his way.

The next question was how to transport the bird, looking at the size of those talons there was no way I was going to carry the thing anywhere in just a blanket on my lap! The solution, I put in a call to my room mate and asked him to come find us with one of the many cardboard packing boxes that are in the store room of the house. After his initial surprise at the call he jumped in the car and within a few minutes he duly arrived, box in hand.

Now we had to get the bird into the box. Of course I had been involved in helping save raptors before, both at Allen’s Meadows (image here) and here on Riversville when I picked up a clipped Broad-winged Hawk. I knew that you have to be careful with these things when you handle them (most websites etc suggest not doing so unless it is an emergency – and this kind of was). The last thing you want is one of their talons connecting with any of your soft fleshy parts and the recent story of the guy who was blinded in England whilst trying a similar bird rescue came to mind (story here). Anyway with little more than some aggressive bill clacking and a few grasping attempts to connect it’s talons with my hands or arms I had the bird swaddled in a blanket and inside a box.

Barred Owl - John Deakins

Of course 11:00pm isn’t the best time of day to try and get hold of a wildlife rehabilitator (you can find contact details for them on this website) So the evening ended with me taking the box o’ owl back to my house to rest up for the evening until we could take him somewhere. In the end s/he spent a rather comfortable night in our second bathroom (I wanted to put him in a small room with a door on it just in case it managed to escape from the box) before being hooked up with a rehabilitator in the morning.

The bird seemed to be doing fairly well when he set out for the rehabilitators but you just never know what damage may have been caused that you just can’t see for yourself. So far all the news seems positive and I am keeping my fingers crossed for the little guy/gal. There is something about Barred Owls and their big brown eyes that make them look kind of melancholy – I hope the next time I see this bird it is about to set back off on its adventures around Greenwich. Maybe it’ll just have learned an important (and not too painful) lesson about hunting on roads.

Below is a Barred Owl found under happier circumstances, on a bird walk to Trout Brook Valley. I’m heading back there in a few weeks if you want to join me.

Barred Owl - Saurabh Mehandru



4 responses

13 08 2011

I am so glad you were there to help the bird. Imagine how many people drove by without doing anything? Good job getting a box there quickly. We keep one in our car just in case of situations like this (gloves and towels, too). We were able to help a hit-by-car opossum the other day, but the prognosis was not good. At least it didn’t have to suffer in the street any longer. Barred Owls are my favorite bird so thanks for helping it and sharing the story.

13 08 2011

Hi Amy,

Thanks for the note. It sounds like you are kitted out for all kinds of emergencies. Maybe I need to start to do the same – I seem to have this happen to me on a semi regular basis.

All the best,


16 08 2011
Raleigh Roadside

I have tried this on numerous occasions with my wife. I haven’t had the luck of remembering to keep some sort of storage unit in my trunk. We now have holes in our seats from all types of life form. You’re a lot braver than I’ll ever be for rescuing an Owl; small birds scare the crap out of me, but I nonetheless suck it up. Thank you for the rescue… awesome job.

19 08 2011
Dawn Fine

Nice rescue!~Keep us updated on the owl,hope it does ok.

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