A little help from owl friends

Just 4 Pets hands owl over to local raptor specialist

He wasn’t your average customer, but for Clyde the owl, his visit to Just 4 Pets two weeks ago saved his life.

The pet store welcomed in an injured Great Horned Owl a few weeks ago and helped re-home it with a local raptor specialist until he can be released back into the wild.

Brian Walker, a sales associate with 20-year experience with birds of prey, said staff became curious when a customer had a strange request.

“A customer came in, he was looking to buy some mice,” Walker said.

While the request itself isn’t strange with reptile owners, the inquisitive staff asked what the rodents were for, and discovered the customer had found a Great Horned Owl on the side of the highway between Wycliffe and Cranbrook and was looking to get him a snack.

“Working in a pet store, we get to meet a lot of interesting pets,” Walker said. “Unfortunately, we also sometimes have people come in with wildlife which they have either found injured or have captured and wish to keep as a pet.”

Luckily for Clyde, Walker was working that day and offered to take a look at the injured raptor. He determined it was a younger male owl that had most likely been struck by a vehicle. He said it’s not uncommon for younger owls to be injured in that way.

“There’s a huge mortality rate in their first year,” Walker said. “They’re young, they’re inexperienced.”

In an owl’s first year of life their job is to reach a healthy body weight by hunting for small animals. Great Horned Owls will eat almost any small prey,  from mice to small birds to rabbits.

“All birds of prey are fairly opportunistic,” Walker said.

Clyde was underweight and missing an eye when he was found, but generally in good health. He had no broken wings.

“He was in fairly good shape,” Walker said.

The bird was taken into the care of Just 4 Pets until a local raptor specialist took over. Walker said he will be rehabilitated and released if possible.

It’s not uncommon for concerned customers to reach out to Cranbrook’s many pet stores when they come across an animal injured in the wild.

“We get quite a few people coming to us with wild animals,” Walker said.

In his experience, Walker said he’s had about a half a dozen injured owls brought to him in the past 20 years.

But while picking up an injured animal may seem like the right thing to do, Walker said wildlife is best left where it belongs – in the wild. In fact, it is illegal to keep a wild animal as a pet.

“In situations such as this, the first thing we need to remind people of is that all wildlife is considered protected under the Wildlife Act, and it is against the law to have wildlife in your possession without a proper permit,” Walker said.

“So, as cute as the salamander may be that your five-year-old has just proudly caught, the best thing you can do is to gently release it back into the wild as soon as you’ve finished admiring it.”

Walker admits it’s natural for humans to want to help out an injured animal, and if one is found, there are things that can be done.

“In order to do this safely and legally, there are a few things to keep in mind,” Walker said. “First off, many young animals which may appear to be orphaned or abandoned are usually perfectly fine.

“Deer and other large animals often leave their young for extended periods of time, but will always be nearby. You should never approach a young wild animal which appears to be on its own, as this may provoke the mother into coming out of hiding and possibly even attack you.”

When it comes to birds, young are commonly found after taking a spill from their nest.

“All we need to do to help them is to gently place them back in their nests and then leave them alone,” Walker said. “If you find an animal with obvious signs of injury, it is still best not to approach it, as the animal will likely feel defensive and could bite or otherwise injure you.”

If you come across an injured animal, the best thing to do is contact the proper authorities to deal with the situation.

“Your best bet is to continue observing the animal from a distance, and report its condition and location to your local Fish and Wildlife branch or Conservation Officer,” Walker said. “They will either be able to send a trained expert to deal with the situation, or can advise you of any certified wildlife rehab programs in your area.”

That’s exactly what Just 4 Pets did with Clyde, and he is now recuperating with a local specialist.

“If you do find yourself temporarily caring for a wild animal, remember that it is illegal to have any form of wildlife in your possession without a proper permit, your local Fish and Wildlife branch must be notified of the situation,” Walker said. “After that, the most important things are to keep the animal calm, warm, and hydrated. All wild animals have a natural fear of humans, so being in close proximity to us, especially while injured, can be extremely stressful.  Try to keep the animal in a quiet, dark place away from a lot of human attention.”

When providing water for a wild animal, Walker has a few tips for keeping wild animals safe.

“Make sure that fresh clean water is readily available at all times,” he said. “If you are offering water with an eye dropper or other similar device, it is very important not to squirt directly into their mouth, as this may cause the animal to inhale water and possibly even drown. Rather, squeeze just one small drop of water from the end at a time and let the animal lick it off.

“Never try to force feed an animal; this is extremely stressful and may lead to additional injuries.”

As soon as possible, the animal should be taken into the care of an appropriate specialist. For more information visit www.wrnbc.org.


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