Rare Great Gray Owl Returned to the Wild

Local Wildlife Hospital and Conservation Center, Think Wild, has released a great gray owl back into the wild after the successful rehabilitation and treatment of its injuries following a window strike. The owl, an Oregon Conservation Strategy Species, suffered from an eye injury when it struck a window in the Sunriver area.

Photo by Kermit Williams

Dr. Donna Harris, a retired veterinarian in the Sunriver area, found the owl after watching it hit a window. That evening she met with Kelli Neuman, Animal Program Coordinator for the Sunriver Nature Center, and brought the bird into her care. It was transported to Think Wild in Bend the following morning, where veterinarian Dr. Laura Acevedo performed an intake exam. Dr. Acevedo found hemorrhaging in the right eye but determined it was otherwise in good condition.

After a few days of anti-inflammatory treatments, Think Wild determined that the great gray owl was ready for release by administering a live prey test to ensure that the owl could successfully hunt on its own. On Friday night, wildlife hospital staff released the owl back to the wild for a second chance at life. Think Wild invited Dr. Harris and her husband and bird photographer, Kermit Williams, to join the release.

“The story of its injury, its capture, its transport to, and ultimate care at Bend’s Think Wild was seamless, thrilling, and heartwarming in the end to all of us who love and value the wildlife around us. It could not have ended better for the Great Gray Owl and for those of us who treasure our wildlife,” said Dr. Harris. “Attending its release was one of the brightest spots for me in this past year of uncertainty and sadness.”

Photo by Kermit Williams

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife lists great gray owls as an Oregon Conservation Strategy Species. This designation is given to species with small or declining populations, that are at-risk, and/or are of management concern. Great gray owls are Oregon’s largest owl species and require large forested areas with montane grassland clearings.

Window strikes are a common cause of injury and mortality for wild birds. They cause the death of an estimated 1 billion birds in the U.S. each year. During the day, birds may fly into windows when they see the reflection of vegetation or sky or if they see through the window to plants while looking for a safe place to land. At night nocturnal migrants may fly into lighted windows, especially if diverted from their migration path by artificial light.

To help protect wild birds from the dangers of window strikes, avoid putting bird feeders right next to windows. You can also apply decals or screens to your windows so that birds can recognize them as a barrier.

Oftentimes when a bird hits a window, it might just need an hour or two to rest before flying away. If there is no sign of injury, gently place the bird in a well-ventilated box and put it in a quiet, dark, and warm location for one hour. Do not try to give it food and water, and resist handling it. After one or two hours, gently take the box outside and open it. If the bird flies away, then all it needed was a little bit of time to recuperate, and no further action is necessary. If the bird does not fly away, please call Think Wild’s hotline number at (541) 241-8680.