This spring a pair of great horned owls took over a large nest in a tree not too far from the Narragansett Bay shoreline. As one would expect before too long little owls could be seen safely peeking from the nest high in a tall evergreen. Of course owls are not meant to spend their lives in a nest; they are, as the saying goes, “born to fly.” Even so, flying is an acquired skill and takes some practice. The young of our own species are sometimes imprudent, and it seems that the same is true of young male great horned owls.
A few weeks ago, one of the young owls flew out over the bay and encountered some trouble in the form of several sea gulls who decided this intruder from the forest needed to be taught a lesson. In fact, they apparently thought he was such a threat to their empire that he should be eliminated.
But for some passing boaters, the dramatic set-to between the offended gulls and the hapless young owl might have ended badly for the owl since he fell into the bay and his feathers became waterlogged. Being good citizens, the concerned boaters plucked the owl from the bay and took him to the Coast Guard Station in Bristol, Rhode Island. Someone at the Coast Guard had the presence of mind to contact the Audubon Society who knew just whom to call: the Born to Be Wild Nature Center over in the Westerly area.
John and Vivian Maxson, the compassionate couple behind the rescue center, drove over to Bristol to take charge of the thoroughly shaken owl who had already had one near-death experience in his young life.
The Maxsons provided the owl with a safe place and a steady supply of mice to tickle his palate - (do owls have palates?) Anyway several hundred mice later, the owl had grown and regained both his strength and his spirit of adventure and was ready for release.
Starting with the account of the boaters about where the owl was found in the water, between Hog Island and the Bristol shoreline, John and Vivian began looking at maps of the area in search of likely great horned owl habitat and came to the conclusion that the young bird had probably come from the grounds of a group called “the Columban Fathers.”
Using the internet, they were able to locate a contact e-mail address for these Columban Fathers. What they did not realize was that this particular e-mail address is hardly used at all. But this being one very lucky owl, someone in the Columbans' office noticed the message and was able to make contact between the Born to be Wild Nature Center and the Columbans. Permission for the release was obtained and the Maxsons set up an evening release.
The young owl who had fallen into the drink was apparently only too happy to once again be free and able to fly around the territory his parents had staked out as a good place for owls to do what owls do. Now there is another hungry owl patrolling our grounds for baby skunks, mice and other snack foods.
Columban Fr. John E. Burger, St. Columbans, Bristol, Rhode Island.