Owl Hurt?

“Second Owl” dragging its left wing on Thursday Feb. 3 2022 (Athene cunicularia)

In the past week, dozens of park visitors have stopped to see the Burrowing Owl that has been a reliable sight in the center of the Burrowing Owl Sanctuary — the “Second Owl” — and come away disappointed. The owl could not be seen for four days (Jan. 29-Feb.1), then reappeared briefly on Wednesday Feb. 2 and again on Thursday Feb. 3, and was out of view again the next day and ever since.

The owl’s behavior on Feb. 3 was most unusual. Quite unlike its usual casual attitude toward the public, happy to show itself in plain view on the flat ground, out in the open, the owl this time hid behind the big stone. (See the Feb. 3 post here.) It seemed that something might have happened to make the owl suddenly fearful, but it was not obvious what that might have been. The sharp eyes of long-time owl observer Mary Law, reviewing the Feb. 3 video, spotted a probable cause. As you can see in the video excerpt above, it looks like the owl is dragging its left wing. We have only these few seconds of video showing the injury, not enough to draw any detailed conclusions about the severity of the injury or the prognosis.

The obvious move when a bird seems to be injured is to call Lindsey hospital in Walnut Creek or Wildcare in San Rafael. Both institutions have facilities to hold an injured bird, feed it, and treat it to the extent possible, until it heals. There is one problem: they don’t have ambulance services. You have to take the bird to them. That’s a big problem even when the bird is visible. Few birds will let you approach and pick them up unless they’re very seriously hurt. You’d need a special net and trained helpers to collect a bird that’s still capable of evasion. But when the injured bird isn’t even visible, what are you going to do?

Where is the Second Owl? If in fact it has an injured wing, as seems to be the case, we can rule out that it flew away. It did seem to be able to walk. I and other observers have scoured the habitat for many yards all around, and have not seen it. My best guess is that the bird has taken refuge in a Ground Squirrel burrow and is resting there, waiting for its wing to heal. If it can walk, it can hunt. It may emerge in the dark and seek out the bugs (caterpillars, beetles, etc.) that are its normal diet. If it can hunt, it won’t starve. That’s a lot of ifs. And the big if is, can its wing heal well enough to let it fly? If so, when? Normally, the owls here start their northward migration in the first or second week of March. Will this owl be healed in time? Or will it have to stay here longer?

Many questions. Another question is, how did the bird injure its wing? Doesn’t normally happen. Several people have told me, “a dog.” But has anyone actually seen it happen? If you have any information about how this bird injured its wing, please use the Comment form below.

I will be watching the area almost daily to see if by chance the bird comes out again. If you see it, please call or text me with details at 510–717-2414. Thank you.

Update: Park visitor Zoe Elton updated the chronology of this owl’s disappearance. She saw the Second Owl on January 28, and then again on the windy morning of February 2. The owl had moved to a more secluded spot behind the big boulder already on Feb. 2, which suggests that the owl was already injured at that time.

“Second Owl” on Thursday Feb. 3 2022 (Athene cunicularia)

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