by Rich McIlhenny

This is the owl shortly after Rich McIlhenny found him and took him home. He was not able to open his big, beautiful eyes at the time.

Heading back towards Chestnut Hill from my office in Blue Bell late Tuesday night, Feb. 8, I made the turn from Walton Road onto Stenton Avenue where it runs between Wings Field and an office complex. I turned on my high beams, as I always do heading onto these back roads, in the event that I spot a fox, as I have in the past, or the deer that are often in the fields near the road.

Looking from side to side, I suddenly saw a small strange brownish shape straight ahead of me, about to disappear under my passing truck. I slammed on the brakes and backed up, and there in my headlights was a small owl, just sitting in the road with its eyes closed. I got out of the vehicle and grabbed a cardboard box and a brush from the back, and slowly approached the shivering bird. He was standing on his feathered talons, looking as if he was taking a nap.

I noticed what looked like small droplets of blood on his chest and wondered if he had been attacked. I tried to brush him into the box, and he attempted to fly and made it only a few feet. I gently picked him up and put him into the box and placed him in the passenger seat of my Toyota. He had small tufts of feathers on his head that had me convinced he was a baby Great Horned Owl.

Fearing he would panic and start flying around the inside of my truck, I turned off the radio and increased the temperature to warm him up. I reached over and rubbed his head very softly and told him that he would be alright. The feathers on his head were as soft as anything I have ever felt.

After about a 15-minute drive, I got home to Mt Airy and left him in the truck while I went inside to prepare somewhere for him to sleep. I ran to the basement and brought up a big cage that we never used for our dogs Matty and Moses and placed it on the dining room table. I lined it with newspaper and then ran to the back porch and found some leftover bedding from our late rabbit Chopper’s cage that I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of.

I made a nice soft spot in the dog cage and went back out to the truck and carried the owl into the house. As I placed him inside the cage, one of his eyes opened slightly and then closed as if he seemed to just want to check out. He then resumed his standing and sleeping position, and I closed the cage door, turned off the lights and went up to bed.

The next morning my sons Jesse and Daniel and wife Marissa came downstairs to see our latest visitor. After explaining why we couldn’t keep him as a pet, we took some photos and uploaded them to Facebook. My friend Pete Smith, who grew up in Mt. Airy and now works for the Forestry Department in Texas, quickly replied and immediately identified him as a full-grown Eastern Screech Owl, not a baby Great Horned Owl.

After a quick breakfast and dressing of the kids, I placed Hoot Hoot (Daniel’s name for him) into Chopper’s former carrier for a ride to take the kids to school. After dropping them off, and allowing a quick peek to dozens of first and third graders at GFS, I headed to the Schuylkill Wildlife Rehabilitation Center on Port Royal Avenue in Andorra, arriving just before they opened. After a short wait, a nice lady whom I had met there before showed up and confirmed that it was indeed an adult Screech Owl and that he had a swollen eye and had probably flown into a car just before I found him. She said owls were also often poisoned by eating mice that have been poisoned by humans. It was possible he was poisoned and then flew into a car.

This is what the rescued Screech Owl will look like when it is fully recovered.

After filling out a form and making a donation, I gave the owl to Michelle, assistant to director Rick Schubert’s. She gave me a card with a number that I could use and call the next day to see how he is making out. I walked out, relieved that he was being helped and started missing the little guy.

I waited as long as I could and finally called Thursday early afternoon. I said to Michelle, who answered the phone, “Hi, I dropped a screech owl off yesterday who had flown into a car.” Before I could even give the indentifying number, she said  “I’m really sorry. He didn’t make it. Just as we started working on him, he passed away. Thanks for bringing him to us. I’m sorry again.”

My eyes welled up with tears as I thought of the cute little guy and his soft head. I sat in the driveway of a client’s house and sent a text to my wife and posted on Facebook that Hoot Hoot had died. I couldn’t belief the grief I felt over a little bird that I had known for less than a day. I think I would have been less upset had I heard a distant relative had passed away whom I had known for decades.

Trying to compose myself,  I walked around depressed for a while until my phone rang. It was Michelle again. She said, “Rick heard me talking to you and he said that your owl is fine! He remembers you from when you brought the fawn to us years ago, and he said, ‘Wrong owl! Another screech owl was brought in yesterday. Sorry about the mix up.” I thanked her, and then tears of joy ran down my cheeks as I corrected my posts on Facebook to the thrill of dozens of friends and family. The “Jesus Owl” or “Lazarus Owls,” as he is now being called on Facebook, had been resurrected.

The next day Daniel, Jesse and I rode over to the rehab center to see how our new friend was. Michelle brought him out in a carrier, and I could see that he had more energy than the day before. She said he had been given fluids, and they would feed him a mouse the next day. The boys and I wished him well and left.

Hoot Hoot

The next day, Rick said that the owl was still hanging in there and that if and when he was back to full health, we could come and be there when they released him back into the area that I found him in. I called again this Monday. He is still hanging in there. He won’t eat yet, but they are giving him intra-venous nutrients.

The Wildlife Rehab Center is a very special place that provides medical help and nurturing. They have treated thousands of injured and sick animals, releasing most back into the wild again. Visit their web site at HYPERLINK “http://www.schuylkillcenter.org/departments/wildlife/”http://www.schuylkillcenter.org/departments/wildlife/ for great information on what to do if you find an injured or distressed animal, or to make a contribution to support their wonderful program.

Rich McIlhenny is a lifelong resident of Mt Airy and a realtor with Remax. If you are an injured wild animal, email him at HYPERLINK “mailto:Rmac88@aol.com”Rmac88@aol.com.