MONTEREY COUNTY — A screech owl that was hunting on a cold night at the beginning of December likely swooped down after prey but ended up slamming into the passenger side window of a car, causing a serious injury that left it blind in one eye. But it was very fortunate the car he hit was being driven by Kirk Wilson.
The Corral de Tierra resident was driving home on Dec. 1 with his fiancé when they heard a loud crack.
“It sounded like a rock hit the window,” Wilson said. “At first I thought it might have been a teen throwing things at cars.”
When he got to the top of a hill he stopped, his curiosity getting the better of him. He pulled a U-turn and went back to where the sound came from. He searched the area with the headlamps of his car but didn’t see anything out of the ordinary. So he turned around and started back up the hill.
“But then I thought I wanted to do one more pass,” he said. So he turned around a second time and began searching with his headlamps. He saw something on the side of the road that at first looked like a pinecone.
“And then I realized it was an owl that was stunned but standing,” Wilson said. It turned out to be a western screech owl, a small raptor that typically measures only 8 inches from tail to beak, and with its brown and gray mottled plumage could look very much like a large pinecone.
“It was a cold night and I didn’t want to just leave him and let him become prey for other animals,” Wilson said. “I didn’t want to be responsible for that.”
He retrieved a box and wrapped the owl in a towel with little protest. Wilson could see blood around its eye and noticed the pupil on one side was not dilating. In the morning he packed the owl over to the SPCA Monterey County’s Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and into the hands of Dr. Kate Riley, the SPCA veterinarian.
Riley and SPCA staff see many injured wildlife in the course of a year — north of 2,000. Many of those are songbirds but also a good number of raptors — owls, golden and bald eagles, and any number of hawks. Some were injured by other raptors while fighting over territory, but being hit by cars is the greatest danger.
Riley saw that the owl was squinting both its eyes and his right pupil was misshapen. The eye was also bloody and swollen, and he had blood in his mouth. He was diagnosed with a retinal detachment, retinal and intravitreal hemorrhage, and scarring inside the eye, said Beth Brookhouser, the vice president of communications for the SPCA.
The damage was too extensive to save its sight in that eye. He was blind, and the vision would not return. Riley with assistance from Marissa Jacky, a registered veterinary technician, removed a portion of the eye to relieve the pain the owl was in, pain that would have become chronic without the surgery.
After recovering from surgery, SPCA Wildlife Center staff placed the owl in a flight cage where they could ensure his ability to fly and hunt. Small owls have been shown to have the ability to hunt with just one eye, Brookhouser said.
Care for injured wildlife can be extremely expensive for the SPCA, simply because of the degree of care they need. Brookhouser said the SPCA is constantly looking for donations from the public to help offset those costs. Those interested in making a donation can visit www.spcamc.org/donate.
On Jan. 1 with Wilson and SPCA staff looking on, the owl, after a brief pause to look around, flew back into the night.
Contributed by local news sources