The truck driver thought it was a dead rabbit in the road near Lander. He tried to maneuver around it. When he looked back he saw it wasn’t a rabbit, and it wasn’t dead.
It was a great horned owl. The driver moved the owl to the side of the road, only to return the next day and find it still there. A couple of phone calls later the bird was on its way to Wilson and the Teton Raptor Center, thanks to a network of volunteers who offered to drive the bird the more than 150 miles needed.
The owl arrived at the Center on Sept. 26, and now a month later, staff are hopeful it will make a full recovery and become the first bird saved through the new Raptor Rescuers program, that uses volunteers from around the state to transport injured birds to treatment facilities.
The Teton Raptor Center received a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Foundation to build a network across the state of those willing to drive injured birds to the Center, or the nearest bird rehabilitation center equipped for the necessary treatment. There’s a rehab center in Cody and one slated to open in May in Lander.
So far 36 people throughout Wyoming have volunteered to drive injured birds to treatment. The network also includes six pilots with LightHawk, an organization that donates flights for conservation purposes.
Volunteers don’t actually handle the birds. The Teton Raptor Center used part of the grant to outfit Wyoming Game and Fish offices with gloves and special kennels to collect injured birds. Drivers are trained to keep their car at a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees, keep music off and keep the kennel closed until they reach a rehab center, which can sometimes mean several hundred miles of driving.
“We are trying to cast a wide net. You just never know where or when a raptor might get injured,” said Carrie Ann Adams, program associate with the Teton Raptor Center. “Every year raptors face more and more threats … There are more power lines and more people on the roads and more people hunting.”
Raptors are most often injured by cars, flying into power lines and lead poisoning acquired from feeding on gut piles of animals killed with lead bullets.
The network performed its first rescue Sept. 2. A Wyoming Game and Fish warden found an unresponsive great horned owl near Pinedale. While what happened to the owl is unknown, it had a fractured ulna and severe head trauma.
The warden called the Teton Raptor Center and within an hour a volunteer arrived to drive the bird in. Its broken wing couldn’t be reset. The injuries were so extensive, center staff had to euthanize the bird.
“We’re always really hoping for happy endings,” Adams said.
Of the five birds rescued since then, three didn’t survive while two are recovering.
Along with the owl found near Lander, a golden eagle is rehabilitating at the raptor center.
A game warden came across the injured eagle near Rock Springs on Oct. 14. It arrived at the raptor center with a badly infected left eye, scrapes, bruises and blood in its ears – a combination of the effects of lead poisoning and likely some sort of head trauma, said Meghan Warren, the rehabilitation coordinator at the raptor center.
The 6-year-old female bird’s eye and other wounds are healing. It will likely make a full recovery.
While it and the great horned owl recuperate at the center, they also help educate people. The Teton Raptor Center uses its website and social media to update the public on rescue missions by sharing pictures and stories.
“That really makes raptors real in people’s minds, more than statistics ever could,” Adams said.
If you see an injured bird, call your local raptor rehab center or Wyoming Game and Fish office.