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Disabled Barn Owl Defies Odds and Learns to Fly

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Photo by Ashley Kinney

When a wild bird is born with a wing deformity, the chance of it achieving strong enough flight skills for a successful life in the wild is only about 15%.

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Photo by Ashley Kinney

Apparently no one told that to a special barn owl who arrived at the Center as a downy nestling in June 2009. After months of rehabilitation and careful training, the owl gained full flight and hunting capabilities and was released at Alum Rock Park on December 17.

It was a long road to recovery for this tenacious juvenile owl. A wing deformity at birth meant the deck was stacked against it from the beginning. And veterinarians confirmed WCSV’s fear—the bird would most likely never be able to function in the wild.
“With that unfortunate diagnosis, we decided to work with the owl as a potential educational animal,” said Stephanie Ellis, the Animal Care Director at the WCSV. “We reached out to the Youth Science Institute (YSI) at Alum Rock Park to help us with this.” Both groups worked extensively with the owl for several weeks, acclimating it to humans and its new environment, and familiarizing it with jesses and anklets used with wild birds in captivity.

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Photo by Ashley Kinney

But this determined owl had other ideas. Once her adult feathers grew in she decided to fly, yes, fly out of her nest box one day to the great surprise of all who had worked so closely with her! It soon became evident that this bird really needed to be re-evaluated! With this new-found flight capability, she was clearly sending us a message that she wanted more. So it was back to the WCSV for bird-of-prey boot camp: a large flight aviary to build its muscles plus live hunts to hone its instincts.

On December 17, the owl was released at Alum Rock Park, close to where she was originally found. Thanks to Jean Higham-Sergeant, one of our animal care volunteers, who recorded the momentous occasion.

Video by Jean Higham-Sergeant

Photo by Ashley Kinney

Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley
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