Friday, June 8, 2012
Wildlife experts shocked to find injured Michigan barn owl thought to be extinct, now being rehabilitated in Grand Rapids
With the last sighting of a Michigan barn owl in 2000, some thought the bird to be extinct.
There have only been four confirmed sightings of individual barn owls in the state since the last breeding pair were spotted in Michigan in 1983. Lori Martin, wildlife program coordinator at Blandford, hadn’t seen or heard of a Michigan barn owl in her 10 years at the center.
But to the staff’s surprise, the lethargic bird in the barn – unable to hold himself up or keep his eyes open – was a barn owl. He was in bad shape when staff took him in on May 21.
“When we came in he had a really slow heartbeat, and for birds, their heartbeat is extremely fast because they have a higher metabolism than humans,” Martin said. “With him, (the heartbeat) was very easy to count: a sign he was not doing well.”
Blandford’s veterinarian, Dr. Rebecca Vincent of the Animal Medical Center of Wyoming, thought the bird exhibited signs of neurological issues, possibly due to West Nile virus or poisoning.
Throughout the past few weeks, however, the owl has made strides. He has been on a fluid and feeding regimen and daily physical therapy, and he's regaining the use of his legs, which appeared to be stiff and unusable when staff found him. He is also becoming more vocal – a contrast from his original meekness.
“He screams every time we go to handle him, like a typical barn owl. He puts up a fight and is way more feisty than he was before,” Martin said.
The owl is still being hand-fed, and it’s a matter of time to see how he will recover. If he proves strong enough, staff will work with the Department of Natural Resources to release him back into the wild. Otherwise he’ll be added to Blandford’s family of birds of prey and reptiles, either to live among the center’s wildlife trails or to be taken to schools for endangered species education.
Of course, the staff at Blandford are rooting for the owl’s full recovery, but if he becomes a resident there’s the likelihood that he’ll acquire a name. A few staff members have loosely thrown around the name Soren from the book series "Guardians of Ga’hoole," Martin said.
The nature center’s wildlife department is accepting donations to assist in the owl’s recovery. Tax deductible donations can be made in person, or on the nature center’s website (specify in the comment section that it’s for the barn owl). Checks can also be mailed to Blandford at 1715 Hillburn Ave NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49504 with “Barn Owl” in the memo.