I was a basket case, nearly hysterical, in the wee hours of Sunday, July 5. Mitzy, the 8 week-old Tawny Owl that we had just gotten a week before, was completely refusing to eat. She wouldn't eat tibits, she wouldn't eat chunks, it didn't matter what kind of meat was offered, and she now reversed gears and upchucked anything we tried to force feed her. Even a liquid slurry of meat baby food and gatorade came squirting out of both ends. Her weight was dangerously low. She needed medical care immediately.
As if that wasn't bad enough, Uhu, the big female Eurasian Eagle Owl we acquired in late May, had started holding her right eye shut on Friday. Sometimes birds will have minor scratches on their eyes that will heal on their own in a few days. But this was obviously worsening, her eyelid was terribly swollen, and now she was just sitting on the ground, not going up to her perches. She ALSO needed medical care right away.
This was all on top of Rusty, the male of our breeding pair that are streamed live 24/7 on our website, was five weeks into the recovery from his own eye injury sustained when he flew straight into a post from 30 feet away when I was cleaning the fligth pen. At first I thought he would be fine, since he showed no effects the first day and only very minor issues the next few days. But when he flew to the nest platform and refused to leave, and we could see blood filling his eye with the cameras, he needed to go in.
In hindsight I should have brought Rusty in for medical care immediately, instead of waiting to verify that he was having serious issues. Because we waited so long the damage to his eye was severe. For a bird who only has one eye, this was a very, very, very grave issue.
Rusty has been confined to a dog carrier in the breeding pen so we can put drops into his eye twice a day as well as give him medication in his food. We keep his carrier in the breeding pen so he and his mate Iris can still hoot together, which they do every day. I knew he was starting to see, and he was due for a checkup on Tuesday or Wednesday, but if we had to drive 2.5 hours to go to The Raptor Center for the other two, I was hoping that it would be OK to bring Rusty along too (even if it was a Sunday.)
Mercifully my call on a Sunday, the day after the 4th of July, was answered immediately, and I was told I could bring all of the birds in...I just needed to get there ASAP. I dropped everything, told the staff where I was running off to, caught Hein, loaded birds, and we were on the road.
I need to mention here that I had only finished making Uhu's travel box on Thursday, so it was only JUST ready, thank goodness. And fitting her carrier along with Rusty's travel box and Mitzy's pet carrier (she likes to see out) was absolutely all that my 2-door Chevy Tracker could accomodate in addition to myself and Hein. It's plainly obvious that the Owl Center needs a van ASAP so we can transport all of our birds to and from work and for trips like this. (Please contact us if you or someone you know may be interested in donating a white or a black van with removable seats and air condinitioning that's in very good condition!)
At any rate, The Raptor Center was busy with patients, so we had to wait a bit before being seen. I was happy to see Dr. Galan was staffing today, as she was the doctor who had been working with Rusty already. Thankfully her assistant was working too, as normally she doesn't have an assistant on Sundays.
Mitzy, the most critical, was first. The poor girl had to be handled more like a wild raptor than a fledgling used to being around people and never being restrained. But it was necessary for the exam and X-rays. She was dehydrated, probably from not eating much at all, but otherwise her physical exam was good. Her X-rays showed slightly enlarged kidneys due to the dehydration, and her intestines were just a big white blob...difficult to tell if she might have a partial obstruction that would cause her to throw everything up. Barium X-rays might be necessary to figure out what's going on.
They gave her subcutaneous fluids to hydrate her and oral antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, something to make her intestines move, and clear fluids. Thankfully that all stayed down and she did poop before we were done with the other owls. Currently all the top doctors at The Raptor Center are consulting to best help Mitzy. She will stay there, under their expert care, in a "private" cage (for "owned" birds, separate from wild birds) until she is eating properly.
Uhu was up next. When Dr. Galan and her assistant came out of the room where they had extracted her from her box so they could properly restrain her, they said "She's VISCIOUS!" She's also huge--she makes Great Horned Owls look small.
I was shocked to hear Uhu's weight was only 2030g (4.5 lbs). Ruby even weighs a bit more than her! But Ruby is in great physical condition and might be a bit on the chunky side...and Uhu has never been able to fly before, so her breast muscles are atrophied and they are a large part of her weight. Although she can fly in her 8' x 20' aviary, we need to find ways to help her build up her flying muscles. The rest of her physical exam was fine, other than her right eye.
Her right eyelid was very swollen, and probably very painful (blepharitis). She also had a small corneal ulcer. This would have resulted from some irritation to the eye, scratch or abraison. We don't know what happened, since we do not yet have security cameras in the new aviaries. This brings to the forefront our need for cameras in those aviaries so we know what happens when we aren't there, and so we could correct anything that may have caused Uhu to injure herself, if indeed it was a tiny problem with the aviary itself.
At any rate, Uhu now needs ointment put into her eye daily, and will receive an anti-inflammatory with her food every night. I have to say the thought of putting ointment into the eye of an owl this big who I had not had on the fist before that day was pretty daunting.
Finally it was Rusty's turn. I was hopeful for his eye since he had obviously begun to see some. He could track my hand when I reached in to put his food in his carrier at night, but I didn't know how well he was seeing. His iris was its normal yellow color again, but some scar tissue at the bottom touched his pupil, so when it contracts his pupil is more oval instead of round. This isn't a problem.
Although his retina is still inflamed, the top portion is clear (yea!!!!!!). The lower portion was not visible due to more gunk from his injury that just needs to be reabsorbed. This will take quite a bit of time. Dr. Galan was ready to give the OK to try putting him into a small avairy with a camera so we could observe him to see how well he could find perches and get around, but she found an ulcer on his cornea. We now need to switch from giving him eye drops twice a day to putting ointment in his eye three times a day. Yikes! His one remaining eye is just so important to him that we can't risk it. He's due for a recheck on Thursday.
Needless to say that I was exhausted, relieved and thankful when we arrived home just before 9 PM.
The silver lining in all of this is that I am now forced to work with Uhu. Whenever I approached with a glove before she would hiss and lunge at it with lightening speed, so I was going too slowly. Now that I HAVE to handle her, I found out that the hiss and lunge was a big bluff, and that once on the glove she LOVES to have me walk around so she can look at things. So to treat her eye this morning, I got her onto the glove, walked outside, and just squirted the ointment into her eye as she stood on my fist. I think she's going to be a really good education bird, and will start coming to work as soon as her eye is well, assuming she does well at work too.
If you'd like to help with medical expense for Rusty, Mitzy and Uhu, or donate toward other necessities like a security cameras for our new aviaries or a wrap job for the van that we hope someone will donate, click here.
If you'd like to send a check (this is especially good for larger donations, since all online donations incur processing expenses), please make it payable and mail to:
International Owl Center
PO Box 536
Houston, MN 55943
We have not received any medical bills yet for Rusty's three visits, Alice, Uhu, and Mitzy's visits, or for their medications, but it will certainly be well over $1,000. We anticipate costs to install security cameras in the new aviaries that integrate with our current system that monitors the breeding and release training pens will cost around $3,000 - $4,000. An awesome full wrap-job on a white or a black van will run around $4,000, and we'll have a fantastic "Owlmobile"!
Thanks for your support!
The International Owl Center advances the survival of wild owl populations through education and research. We plan to accomplish our mission through biological and cultural programs and displays, green building design, citizen-science and other research, international exchange of information, the World Owl Hall of Fame, the International Festival of Owls, and other means.