As darkness descended and temperatures plunged in a Prince Edward Island field, Dennis MacKenzie tried to coax a scared, injured barred owl down from a spruce tree.
He had no plans to visit the field in Crapaud, P.E.I., en route to drop his sons off for a basketball game at their school, but he was struck when his car lights picked out a little head bobbing in and out of a ditch along the roadside.
He soon recognized it as an owl’s head and realized the bird was trying to cross the street.
He turned on his blinkers and the short line of vehicles behind him stopped to let the owl pass. That’s when he saw it was dragging its wing as it hopped along in the bright lights streaming from vehicle headlamps.
“I only had to take my sons two minutes up the road, drop them off, and then came back to where the owl was,” he said.
“By this point it had moved on. I found its tracks and could locate it because it was dragging it’s wing, it was hopping. There was a wing mark as well, along in the snow.”
The owl was about 100 metres off the road and trying to hide itself in one of the spruce trees, he said.
That’s when he called Candy Gallant who runs P.E.I. Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation to help him capture the injured bird.
Gallant said she arrived to find MacKenzie standing with his car lights blinking by the side of a road.
“He immediately said, ‘it’s over here,’ and pointed into a large field full of snow,” she said from her home in P.E.I. while injured and recovering birds chirped in the background.
“I’m nearly 70 and not very spry anymore. We walked what felt like a mile through snow until we got to a tree where we could not find the owl.”
They eventually found the brown and white striped bird hiding in the branches of a “very old, beat up, prickly spruce tree,” she said.
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“After we stood and looked at one another for a few moments, (MacKenzie) decided he was going to climb up in the branches and catch the owl with me telling him how to catch an owl, because they have very sharp claws and can use their beak quite well.”
The owl eluded their first few capture attempts, but Gallant was eventually able to seize the bird when it reached a lower-hanging branch.
In her 48 years as an animal rescuer, Gallant said she’s caught an average of one owl once every four or five years. Over the past 12 months, however, she said she’s rescued nine.
She attributes the spike to the possibility that owl numbers are rebounding.
“Apparently their population is growing to the point where now we’re finding them being hit by cars and in people’s backyards,” she said.
MacKenzie and his family will be driving the owl, along with a goose that needs a ride, to Nova Scotia on Monday morning. Once at the headquarters of Hope for Wildlife, an animal rescue and rehabilitation organization, the birds will be examined and assessed to determine next steps.
Gallant said while the owl has been eating eight or nine mice a day, it doesn’t mean it’s well. She said she hopes it can heal but it’s possible the bird may have to be euthanized.
“I just have my fingers crossed that it is a clean break and we can get (the wing) fixed,” she said. “Hopefully he gets fixed up and comes home to me so I can get him better and let him go.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2023.