By Sharon St Joan
Early in the spring of 2013, in northern Utah, a rancher noticed an owl caught in a fence on his property. The owl was motionless, and he assumed she was dead. Passing by the next day, he went over to take a closer look, and he then realized that the owl was still alive. He freed the owl from the barbed wire of the fence as best he could, but unfortunately, in the process, he caused further damage to the owl’s wing.
He called the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and they sent out an officer to pick up the owl. The location of the ranch was remote, and the only way to get there was to drive first into Colorado, and then backtrack into Utah. It was a trip of about 200 miles, and another officer from DWR drove the owl the final stretch to Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, in Price, Utah.
When Debbie Pappas, licensed wildlife rehabilitator, received the great-horned owl, the bird was barely alive; she was weak, thin, had lost a lot of blood, and had probably been hanging on the fence for several days, maybe as many as five days. The only good thing was that the tissue on her badly damaged right wing was still moist and had not dried out.
The first step was to provide supportive care to the bird to stabilize her and enable her to regain some of her strength before her wing could be treated. Antibiotics were given too to stave off infection.
When she was a bit stronger and looked more like she was still present in this world rather than in the next one, then Debbie and her veterinarian considered what the course of treatment should be. The prognosis was uncertain, and her condition was clearly serious.
A novel course of treatment
Debbie recalled a workshop she’d attended some time before at an NWRA (National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association) Symposium. Veterinarians from Spain had given a presentation about cold laser therapy, which is used in human medicine to speed up the blood flow and greatly improve the length of time it takes to heal. They had been using the same treatment for their wild patients, and it worked amazingly well.
With the help of a chiropractor who had the required equipment, the owl was scheduled for cold laser therapy treatments. She was taken for her treatments every other day for four weeks. A barn owl was also taken for these treatments at the same time. The barn owl had been rescued by a kind animal control officer who had spent several hours carefully disentangling him from a fishing line.
Both birds began to show remarkable improvement. Now the owl was also getting honey treatments, which replaced the antibiotics. Honey is an antiseptic that prevents infections, and this was used on the extensive wounds on the owl’s wing. There is medical grade honey that is used for humans, but none was available, so store-bought honey was used for the owl.
Thanks to the perseverance and teamwork of Debbie Pappas, her veterinarian, and the chiropractor, both owls recovered completely and were released back to the wild to fly free again.
A preventable problem
The tragedy of birds caught on barbed wire is, sadly, a very common one, and most do not survive. Yet these accidents, which cause great suffering – they also harm deer and other mammals – can be completely avoided.
Barbed wire is generally in use, not to deter animals, but to convey a message to humans that they should not cross the fence. Virtually any active human who is used to walking around out in the country has the ability to get over, under, or through a barbed wire fence. Barbed wire fences do not physically deter people, and exactly the same message, “Do Not Enter” can be conveyed by the use of plain wire fences without the barbs – or by using hog wire fences with large wire squares. (Fences with triangles instead of squares are also harmful and trap birds and animals in the triangles.)
Square hog wire fences and plain wire fences do not harm animals and do not cause injuries to birds or deer, so they are safe to use.
What you can do
You can prevent these horrible accidents by not using barbed wire and by taking down barbed wire on your property and replacing it with safe fencing. The other thing you can do is let your friends and neighbors know about this too. As a general rule, people don’t want to harm birds and animals, and they will be responsive when they’re given a workable alternative by someone who is a friend and who is not being judgmental.
To visit Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, click here.
Photo: Courtesy of Second Chance Wildlife Rehabilitation Center