Caring for sick owls

Further details of recent owl admissions, care and releases can be seen on our latest news page

Carolyn Screech explains what happens when a sick owl is brought for treatment at the sanctuary:

My nurse training and experience has been invaluable during the years of work with sick and injured owls. However, the basic concept of owl care is most certainly common sense.

Our past care experiences have shown that during the first 24 hours which follow an admission of any sick or injured owl the most important factors are minimal disturbance, adequate room temperature and fluid therapy, which should not be over-zealous as owls don’t naturally have much fluid in their diet. (I can’t say that they do not drink as I have observed them lapping bathing water during warm weather.)

In event of an owl being admitted with serious injuries or open wounds we perform immediate emergency first aid to prevent loss of blood or bodily fluids. But we do not usually rush the bird to our vet until the following day. Often immediate surgical intervention in conjunction with the trauma of the injuries will result in the certain death of the bird.

We have strict procedures for all bird admissions and our own standard admission form must be completed and signed by the finder giving their name, address and telephone number, and the date the bird was found. This form also requests details of the location of recovery including the map reference if known, the circumstances of recovery and what condition the bird was in when found. And finally if any fluid, food or treatment have already been administered and by whom.

This form has several important purposes apart from assisting with providing immediate appropriate care. It is proof of the bird being lawfully in captivity for care and treatment should there be any queries in the future and it also helps us to return fully recovered owls to their former home locations and monitor their progress.

From studying these forms we have also been able to highlight specific road accident black spots, and locations where the food supply may be poor due to environmental factors. During the spring of 1997 we observed a particular new section of dual carriageway from where three barn owls had been admitted on separate occasions with fatal injuries, and the local population of barn owls had been completely wiped out.

The main problem in this area was the danger of fast-moving traffic, in conjunction with the lack of protection from hedgerows or trees. The centre raised funds to initiate a roadside tree planting project at this location to protect owls in the future.

Assistance has also been given to farmers and landowners who are often the finders of sick owls which are consequently admitted hungry and weak. This is frequently an experience which prompts questions about future welfare of their local owls, and about ways of helping with land management or provision of nest sites.

Our experience of caring for owls with varying kinds and degrees of disability has proven that one-winged owls are capable of breeding successfully. This may not be a particularly important factor with the common British owl species,but it may well have significance for captive breeding programmes when preserving severely declining or endangered species.

The centre is extremely lucky to have a very caring and interested vet – Angela Kent, who is part of the Penmellyn veterinary group at St Columb. Fortunately for us she has now taken semi-retirement and is very much part of our team.

Angela has been involved in all aspects of the centre, both in learning more about owl care and welfare and in contributing her veterinary knowledge and skills to the ongoing care for our owls both captive-bred and wild.

Also during our staff winter training programme she has performed some dissections of owl fatalities to assist with anatomy and biology studies for our students. It sounds disgusting doesn’t it? But what a way to learn biology! These dissections were photographed and kept on video for future reference.