I looked into the container and saw those huge yellow eyes looking up at me. He was beautiful, but he looked weak.
My boss and I examined him. First, my boss held those dangerous feet (red tail hawk talons can put you in the hospital, but Great Horned Owl talons can do even worse) while I prepared fluids to give him. My boss stated that the owl was emaciated and dehydrated. Suddenly, we saw the feather flies on his body. Feather flies are evil. They dart and scurry around and you see them for a second, and get ready to grab one, and they go bury themselves deep in the feathers again, disappearing. First, my boss grabbed a fly and smashed it with his thumb. CRACK, it went, spewing the owl’s blood on the white exam table sheet. Then I saw one and grabbed it and did the same thing with my thumb. CRACK. The blood spewed, and I swear the thing came back to life. I had to take my thumb and mash and mash and mash it onto the white sheet to finally kill it.
I got out the feather lice/fly spray and sprayed the owl all over, under the wings, on his back, near his vent, all over. Then we went back to preparing the fluids. Suddenly, the flies got angry at the chemical killer, and started coming out of the owl en masse. They scooted all over the owl. They flew off him onto my shirt, into my boss’s eyes, into my mouth. I spit them out and killed them. My boss picked them off his cheek and shirt. We worked on killing them with our fingers, my boss one handed since he still had the owl’s feet (the owl’s head was covered to reduce his stress). We killed about 40 feather flies with our fingers, leaving 40 bloody smears on the sheet, as they flung themselves off the owl and onto us.
My boss flipped the owl so his feet were down so I could access his back. I parted his feathers to give him an injection of fluids. His beautiful pink skin was riddled with red feather fly bites. I wanted to cry for this poor creature.The flies continued to jump out and we continued to search and kill them. Then I parted the feathers on his neck and saw…maggots.
Flies love to lay their eggs on a compromised, sick bird, and they go deep into the blood feathers (a blood feather is a feather that is still growing, so still has a blood supply). My boss removed as many maggots as he could physically with hemostats (metal grabbers)
My boss then transferred the feet to me and I held them while he left the room to prepare some oral rehydration fluid, L-Glutamine, and Capstar (which kills maggots from the inside of the animal). I was super aware. I had the claws of one of the most powerful, dangerous animals we handle, and I was restraining him. It may seem strange I wasn’t wearing gloves. Not for bravado purposes, but your bare hands have more control. It’s easier for a powerful animal to slip out of hands you can’t feel.
So, while he was out of the room, it was just me and the owl. He was on his back, his head covered, with me holding his powerful feet. Flies were getting irritated and leaving his body, flying up into my face, smacking me in the eyes, hitting my tongue as I took a breath. I spit one out on the floor as I remembered not to let those talons go. I was able to kill 5 or so flies as I held the feet with one hand.
My boss came back and we transferred the feet to him. He pried open the owl’s mouth and I inserted the long tube down his throat, made sure it was in place, and pushed the plunger. Then he put the owl face down and I gave him his fluid injection.
The poor dear owl, once the most fierce killer, looked like he had given up. He must feel so sick, and on top of that, predators are grabbing, poking and prodding him. His head slumped and he closed his eyes. I thought he might die. I always say to these animals, even though they can’t understand, “I won’t hurt you. I am trying to help you. I am sorry about this.”
Because we sprayed him so heavily, he was wet. So there was a danger of him becoming hypothermic in his condition. We put him in an incubator and covered it to make it dark. In a half an hour, I checked on him. He had lifted his head. He looked brighter. He started actually clacking his beak at me, the universal owl signal for “*@*&*) off”!
We had made some progress.
(Post Script: The owl is eating, perching, and hooting. He has started to really recover, and he’s been moved outside to a flight recovery cage!)
(Post, post script: owl recovered, and was released! He is now healthy and flying free as an owl should be!)