Saving Mr. Owl

June 22, 2011

How many of you have seen the movie “Saving Private Ryan”?  I have many times and own the movie on a  DVD.  In that movie a bunch of American GIs die to save another GI, Private Ryan. Now this note is not about that movie, or saving a soldier.  Instead it is about trying to save a baby owl which fell from a tree.

One day I drove over to Dallas for a job interview at 2:30.  I went in to the company’s building and had a nice talk.  I went back out to my car, took my off my stifling tie, and drove back home to Fort Worth.  I went inside my house, changed back into a pair of shorts and a T-shirt, and made a nice cold stiff drink.  I got back in my car and drove down to the park and stopped the car underneath a tall tree in the shade.  I made a couple of phone calls and relaxed listening to some talk radio out of Austin on KLBJ.

As I listened to some of the nutty callers taking to the host Jeff Ward I saw something I had never seen before.  A large baby bird dropped down to the ground flapping its wings right after a very high wind gust.  I looked closer and it was about 50% bigger than a large fat dove and seemed to be an owl of some type. I have seen baby birds in the grass that had fallen from their nest but never one like this or that large.

I sat in my car for a few minutes watching him.  He tried to fly a couple of times; he would flap his wings and go a few feet but never back up into the top of the tree from whence he came.  Every little bit the wind would gust up again and he seemed to shiver even though the temperature was around 100F at that time in the late. He, I assumed it was a “he”, could not fly back to the nest and parents and something would get and eat him later on.  I knew the poor creature was doomed.  The pretty little grey bird would soon be dinner for something else like a hawk or a neighborhood cat.  Before the owl dropped down I had seen a hawk perch on a limb just to the left of my car.

I am not a big animal lover or pet owner at all, but something made me get out of the car and stoop down to take a closer look at the little grey owl.  I gazed down at him and he looked back up at me with big yellow eyes.   He made no sound at all in the ever blowing hot wind and I got back inside of my car preparing to leave him there. But I did not sit for long. I got back out and went back to him.  I reached down with my hand and petted him a little.  He did not squirm or try to flee.  Then in an impulse driven by feeling compassion and pity for the little bird I scooped him up.  I carefully got in the car and placed him in the passenger seat.  He simply sat there and did not move, maybe he was in shock, or tired, or scared.

I drove up the hill from the park and pulled into my driveway and took the little guy inside.  Thinking back to watching cable TV shows about nature and wild animals I tried to feed him.  I sat him up on the counter by the sink and finely chopped up some turkey with a little water.  He would not open his mouth and made no sound looking up at me with his big yellow eyes.  I got a bit sad and worried then.  I wanted him to eat something and be OK.  I really had no idea about how to really care for him or how I could keep him until he was big enough to be on his own.  Bringing him home was, again, some unexplainable impulse.  Here I was, a 51 year old man who really did not care for animals much at all with a baby owl of some type in my kitchen with no real plan for caring for a bird who otherwise would surely die.

Next I gathered my thoughts and did the only logical thing.  I called my daughter Jane who was in college majoring in marine biology and loves all animals.  Surely, she would know what to do with the owl in my kitchen.  I pulled out my cell phone and called her up.  True to form she did not answer so I Ieft her a detailed and perhaps desperate message to call me back.  I tried once more to feed the owl the turkey mush and got a piece in his mouth which he would not swallow.  He just looked at me again and made no sound in the quiet of the kitchen.

Then the phone ring and it was Jane.  She asked me how the owl was and started telling me to call the Fort Worth Zoo and the Texas Wildlife Department who might be able care for “Mr. Owl” and save him.  We talked some more and we hung u.  I then  called the two numbers. Of course it was after 5PM so one was home.  Great I thought as I picked up the phone to call Jane back while I looked at the still silent little owl.

Jane picked up and we talked some more.  My cell phone beeped with an incoming call, my mom of course who always calls it seems when I am in the middle of another call or in the bathroom.  Jane and her boyfriend were doing some web searches and got me a number of a local lady who apparently saved birds and other wildlife.  I thought that was great. Perhaps there was now a real solution to for saving Mr. Owl.  I called the lady hoping for the best. I spoke with her and she said she could not take the bird that night since she was sick and lived over 30 miles away.  Again I thought the owl was doomed but not so, the lady had a friend just a few miles from my house up in Keller whose number she gave me.   I next called him and he said would take Mr. Owl the next day at 9AM in the morning.  I hung up and I was very pleased.  I ate my dinner thinking ever more about the still silent little owl that I had made a bed for in a big shoebox based on Jane’s directions.  I hoped he would be fine once I got him to the man in Keller.

I went to bed late since I actually stayed up watching the line of storms to the north which belched out sheet lightning that reminded me of a scene from Saving Private Ryan.  In the movie the small group of soldiers put in for the night in the ruins of a church before continuing their search for the elusive and still unknown Ryan.  Flash after flash of artillery lit up the clouds in the dark sky, the rumbles of the guns were like the distant thunder rolling across the heavens over my neighborhood.   Quiet alternated with those growls in the evening as the sky lit up.  It was the soundtrack to scene that night to save the little owl.

I went back in the house and got ready for bed.  Before I turned out the lights I checked Mr. Owl once more. He was sitting in the shoebox still making no noise and not moving much.  I looked at him and he looked up at me.  I wondered what he was thinking as I closed the box’s lid before turning out the lights.

I woke up about 3AM to the sound of thunder, wind, and rain. It was a severe thunder storm for sure.  I got a bad feeling then.  It was not a feeling of fear about the storm, but a feeling of fear about Mr. Owl instead.  I turned on the light in my bathroom where I had placed Mr. Owl when I went to bed and opened up the box and looked down.  Mr. Owl was still.  He was dead and stiff in the little nest I had made for him with one of my T-shirts to keep him warm.  Sometime in the five hours between turning out the lights and the storm he had passed. Maybe he had some injury from falling from the tree, or died from shock, but regardless he was dead.

In the movie and its fantasy setting Private Ryan made it home.  But in my little part of reality Mr. Owl did not.  I felt good about trying to save the little bird, and Jane said that too of course, but I could not help questioning why I felt so sad and had shed a tear over him when I saw him dead. Maybe the fact that the baby bird was helpless tugged at my heart.  While I am anthropomorphizing he seemed to be saying “help me” with his gaze; I can still see his big yellow eyes looking up at me.

In the end I think this event shows us that in life we should try to save little things that cannot save themselves.   And we too, just like Mr. Owl, are not so big in the universe as we hope.  Hence one day we might need someone to save us if we should fall out of our own warm, comfortable nest or tree.