A rare Western screech owl that was injured after flying into a car has made a remarkable recovery, thanks to the Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C. (WRA) in Burnaby.
The young female owl lost sight in one eye and suffered a concussion after colliding with a car on a remote logging road north of Whistler in late April.
The driver took the stunned bird to the care centre next to Burnaby Lake where a team of staff and veterinarians were able to save the badly damaged eye.
"We knew that if we could sort out the eye, then she would be ready to go back to the wild," said Yolanda Brooks, WRA communications consultant.
After treatment by a veterinary ophthalmologist to repair a partially detached retina and paralyzed eyelid, the owl was soon able to demonstrate skills enough to fend for itself again.
Though owls rely more on their hearing than on their sight to hunt at night, it is still imperative their eyes can adjust to light and allow them to judge distances.
Because they fly low when hunting rodents, owls will often get injured flying into a car or building window.
"It happens actually quite a lot around here because there are several barred owls here," Brooks said.
"There's a lot around Burnaby Lake, and they get hit by cars quite a lot."
The association sees about 20 owls a year brought in after being injured in this way, she said.
Between five and 25 wild animals and birds brought in to the association every year with injuries are from the Squamish area, Brooks said, noting the screech owl was only one of two or three of this type of owl the association has seen in the last 30 years.
The main populations of screech owls in B.C. are along the coast and in the Okanagan. The species is under threat in the province and is on the endangered "red list," due to nesting sites lost to logging and development, predation by more populous owl species, and greater competition for prey from other birds and mammals, according to a newsletter from the association.
After a month of treatment and rehabilitation, the screech owl regained partial sight in the injured eye, and proved resilient enough to be released back into the wild.
The woman who had brought the bird in took it back up north and let it go in the same area where it had flown into her car.
Before being released from the care centre, the bird was banded to allow conservationists to identify it, should it come in contact again with humans.
A blood sample was also sent the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to give biologists a chance to identify which of the local sub-species of screech owl this bird belongs to.
One local species has fewer than 100 individuals left in the wild, according to the association. Being able to save a rarer bird like this was an interesting experience for everyone involved, said consulting veterinarian Mira Ziolo.
"Once we're able to rehabilitate it and see it survive after we've treated it definitely makes a big, big difference and really makes us happy," she said. "Especially an endangered species; it definitely is a morale booster."
The best thing to do if someone finds an injured wild bird or mammal is to wrap it in a towel or coat, and put it in a box, not feed it or offer any water, and keep it quiet until it can be taken to the association.
If the animal is large, or more aggressive, it is best not to approach it, but to contact the association or local branch of the SPCA, said Brooks.