THE BLOG
11/25/2014 11:20 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Tiny Owl Hits Window

WildCare's Wildlife Hospital treats nearly 4,000 ill, injured and orphaned wild animal patients from over 200 species every year. This is one patient's story.

Northern Saw Whet Owl with wrapped wing. Photo by Alison HermanceNorthern Saw Whet Owls may look like soft and cuddly Muppets, but in fact they're deadly hunters, swooping through the dark of night to catch small rodents and other pint-sized prey.

This little owl was probably hunting, when suddenly her flight was cut short by a giant pane of glass.

It must have been a major collision with the window, because this owl was knocked unconscious. She was found in the morning by the homeowners, dazed and unable to stand.

Fortunately this bird's rescuers knew she needed medical care and got her to WildCare's Wildlife Hospital.

A local Humane Society officer was dispatched to pick up the injured bird and bring her to WildCare.

Once in the examination room, Medical Staff weighed the little owl and discovered that she was, in fact a female. In most raptor species, the females are larger than the males, and the Northern Saw Whet Owl is no exception. This bird weighed a healthy 92 grams, much larger than the 75-gram average weight of a male Saw Whet.

Examining the owl's ear. Photo by Alison Hermance
Melanie Piazza, WildCare Director of Animal Care gently examined the bird for injuries related to her collision with the window. As with any animal, the signs of head trauma in an owl can be very obvious or frustratingly obscure. Melanie first checked the bird's ears, eyes and mouth for blood. This photo shows the owl's surprisingly large ear hidden beneath the fluffy feathers of her head. Melanie was relieved to find no blood in eyes or ears, which indicated that significant internal damage had probably not occurred.

The next step in the exam was to check the bird's balance. She was placed on a soft towel on the floor of the examination room, and Medical Staff stepped back to see what she would do.

The little owl promptly tipped over onto her side, showing that her balance was badly impaired. The bird also had a slightly drooping left wing, which Melanie noted she didn't use to maintain her balance. This indicated a possible fracture.

Wrapping the owl's wing. Photo by Alison HermanceMelanie decided to wrap the wing to keep it stable to prevent further damage until radiographs (x-rays) could be taken the next morning. The bird's stress level was such that a night of quiet rest was needed before x-rays could be taken-- although radiographs are a primary diagnostic tool in the Wildlife Hospital, taking them can be stressful for the patients.

Before her exam was completed, the owl was given subcutaneous fluids, and a small amount of blood was drawn. Although the bird seemed in excellent health other than her drooping wing and head trauma, blood work allowed Medical Staff to confirm that she was not emaciated, anemic or battling infection.

Then the owl was given anti-inflammatory and pain medications, and was placed in a cage in a towel "donut" against which she could lean and remain upright.

The next morning, radiographs showed a mid-shaft fracture of the minor metacarpal bone-- a comparatively minor break. The bird's wing was rewrapped

The owl is offered food on tweezers. Photo by Alison HermanceThe next few days showed improvement in the Saw Whet's condition, with a note in her medical record saying she "is much more BAR (bright, alert and responsive) than the first few days. Now she's clacking her beak." This clacking is one of the owl's defense mechanisms, and it can be intimidating, even from such a tiny specimen as this one. That beak is sharp, and this owl's defensive display bodes well for her recovery.

In addition, the owl is eating on her own, although to make sure she takes on enough calories while in our care, the owl is also being hand-fed with tweezers once a day.

Needless to say, this is a duty our Wildlife Hospital Volunteers accept with alacrity-- who wouldn't want to hand-feed a beautiful little owl like this one?

With ongoing supportive care, we hope this charming patient will make a full recovery.

You can help prevent birds from hitting windows with a few simple steps! Click here to learn more...

WildCare is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization supported almost entirely by private donations and individual memberships. Visit us online at wildcarebayarea.org.