Owl returns to the wild

Published 8:33 pm Saturday, March 4, 2017

With a rich baritone hoot and a flap of his wings, Barney returned to the wild from the hands of a wildlife rehabilitator on Saturday.

The barred owl, estimated to be about a year old, was struck by a car on Whaleyville Boulevard about a month ago. The car that hit Barney didn’t stop, but fortunately, the family in the next car back did stop.

Hannelore Hartbarger, 12, and her nephew, Sabastien Hubbard, 6, were in the car with Hannelore’s mother, Elizabeth Hartbarger. They stopped and gathered the owl into their car.

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“We took care of it,” Sabastien said.

The family wrapped the owl in Hannelore’s jacket and then put him in a dog kennel when they got home.

White and Dr. Andrea Leber, a veterinary ophthalmologist, pose for a photo with Sabastien Hubbard, 6, and Hannelore Hartbarger, 12, who helped rescue the owl after they saw him get hit by a car.

“He was kind of knocked out for a little while,” Hannelore said. But then the owl started to wake up from his dazed state. “He started trying to squirm out,” she said.

They called Tommy White with Alton’s Keep Wildbird Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.

In partnership with local veterinarians, White was able to help Barney, who was named by one of the veterinarians for record-keeping purposes.

When Barney first woke up, his eyes and ears were filled with blood from the head trauma he had suffered, and he was lethargic. But, fortunately, there were no fractures in his beak or bones.

The veterinarians treated him with anti-inflammatory medications and eye drops and fed him.

“It’s amazing how they can heal themselves,” White said.

White made sure Barney could fly and hunt before releasing him. The brown mice he put in Barney’s enclosure “didn’t last very long,” he said.

On Saturday, White released Barney back into the wild at his future rehabilitation center off Whaleyville Boulevard. Following a short Native American ceremony, White asked for Hannelore’s and Sabastien’s help to send Barney off.

Barney flew to a nearby oak tree, where he rested for about five minutes. He then flew to a pine tree. Barney might be expected to live another 10 years or so in the wild, White said.

White has been doing wildlife rehabilitation for five years. He has also been rescuing tropical pet birds, such as parrots and cockatoos, for about 10 years. He has two non-releasable birds — a red-tailed hawk and a great horned owl — that he uses for educational purposes.

White has big plans for the land on Whaleyville Boulevard. He has hired a full-time veterinarian and plans to build a pre-release conditioning area at the facility, where he can observe birds flying and hunting to ensure they are able to be released. The area will even include a water feature stocked with live fish for birds that live near and hunt in the water, he said.