Rehabilitated owls return to the wild

    Wildlife Images staff member Koko Nakamura releases a barn owl at Lower Table Rock Wednesday. It came to the wildlife rehabilitation center as an emaciated fledgling who just needed food and a little flight training.

    Three rehabilitated owls have been returned to the Jackson County wilds, including two western screech owls whose sight was restored by a local veterinary eye doctor.

    Wildlife Images Rehabilitation and Education Center released one of the screech owls Wednesday evening in TouVelle State Park as nearly 20 people gathered to watch. Patient 18-049, as it was known to Wildlife Images staff, was the second of two that had been blinded last winter after being hit by vehicles in separate incidents. Both owls’ eyesight was restored by Central Point veterinary ophthalmologist Dr. Cassandra Bliss, who donated her time.

    Using microsurgical instruments and an operating microscope, Bliss removed damaged portions of one eye in each owl and sutured their wounds in surgeries valued at $2,400 per animal. Bliss charged the nonprofit $1,000 for the two surgeries to cover the cost of medications and tools, which Wildlife Images raised at the beginning of the year.

    “She didn’t charge us for her time or the fact that we used up a couple of her appointment slots, which was very generous,” said Wildlife Images animal care technician Jen Osburn Eliot.

    A care regimen for the two western screech owls involved pain control after surgery and administering medication to ward off a fungus that Osburn Eliot said birds in captivity can contract.

    After the owls spent a couple of weeks in smaller cages, care technicians moved them to larger confines.

    Though the western screech owls each lost an eye, they’ll be able to live successful lives, according to Osburn Eliot.

    “Owls are really interesting in that they can be releasable with only one eye as long as both of their ears are intact,” she said.

    Through their vision and off-center ears, owls triangulate the location of their prey. The screech owls were eligible for release only after twice catching live prey in front of staff.

    In something of an encore Wednesday, Wildlife Images staff member Koko Nakamura also released a barn owl in the organization’s care at lower Table Rock.

    The barn owl came to Wildlife Images just a couple of weeks ago as an emaciated fledgling, according to Nakamura and Osburn Eliot. After feeding the bird and giving it time to learn to fly, the barn owl was ready to be released into the wild Wednesday after catching live prey twice.

    Since the start of the year, Wildlife Images has placed under its care 130 animals, though Osburn Eliot noted, “We’re just getting into baby season.” The bulk of the organization’s rescues occur in June and July, and last year the nonprofit took in 998.

    Not all cases have such happy endings, though the organization said that its release rate of close to half exceeds national averages that are closer to a third.

    Reach Mail Tribune reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or Follow him on Twitter at @MTCrimeBeat.

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