yorkweekly @ seacoastonline
October 26, 2011
The owl hissed as she launched into the sky, then alighted on a tree branch and cast her bright eyes back over the Center for Wildlife staff and researchers who had just released her back into the wild on the night of Thursday, Oct. 20.
She'd been a patient at the center for approximately 10 months, having arrived Dec. 29, 2010, after suffering head trauma and being found near a peacock barn on Hope Island in Portland.
Having lost sight in her left eye, the staff at the Center for Wildlife is unsure how she'll fare back in the forest, so the organization plans to track her with a small transmitter attached to her back. It's an innovative study that the center and researchers hope will provide information of the success of sight-impaired owls returned to the wilderness.
"There is little to no post-release information for owls with limited vision," said Kristen Lamb, director of education and outreach at the Center for Wildlife. "Some raptors rely completely on their eyesight for hunting, but owls can triangulate sound. The theory is that they could do pretty well even with limited vision."
Lamb said Thursday she was excited about the release of the owl.
"She's a beautiful bird, she's really strong and it feels really great to get her back," she said. "She's an ambassador for her species."
Working with the Center for Wildlife to track the owl's success will be the BioDiversity Research Institute.
"I think it'll be fascinating to know where the bird goes. There's not much information about the movement about great horned owls, especially in a coastal area," said Chris DeSorbo, raptor program director at BioDiversity. "I think everyone could learn a lot from this."
DeSorbo explained that while such studies are important, they are often expensive, which limits the research.
But Amy Titcomb, operations director at the Center for Wildlife, said the study will ultimately save funding at the center if it proves unsuccessful.
"It's worth giving her a chance and she's a great owl to put a transmitter on," she said. "If one-eyed owls don't have a chance, we want to know that so we can humanely euthanize them. But if they do, we want to release them feeling better."
Unlike Lamb and DeSorbo, who were excited to see the owl take flight, Titcomb admitted she was anxious. "I'm always nervous at releases but I feel good about it because she's so strong and she's feisty. She really seems like she's ready to get out there and fly away and be done with humans, but it's always scary."
Attending the release were Phyllis Cacoulidis, owner of Hope Island, and Will Wotherspoon, caretaker for the island, who found the bird.
Wotherspoon recalled finding the bird injured and unable to fly and was excited to see her healed and able to return to nature.
For Cacoulidis, she was happy to see the bird back where she belonged.
"I was worried about her, I'm glad she's home," she said.
When it came time to send the bird on her way, Amy Titcomb passed her off to Sheila Rogers, a former Center for Wildlife volunteer and a major donor for the transmitter.
"It was incredible, it was an honor," Rogers said of releasing the owl. "She hissed at me before she left, which is a good thing. She was ready."
As for her contribution to the owl-tracking project, Rogers said she hoped it would inspire others to donate to the fund, which still is $1,000 shy of the $4,000 total need for the transmitter and tracking data collection.
And as the Center for Wildlife and BioDiversity celebrated a happy and successful release, with the owl perched on a nearby branch looking over its former caretakers, Michelle Gorayeb, wildlife education and outreach fellow for the center, expressed her excitement for the owl.
"It was a jumble of nerves coming up here because we don't have a lot of information," Gorayeb said. "I think she's going to do really well. We have a lot of hope from Hope Island."