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Rehabilitated owls released at Tideman-Johnson Park

by: David F. Ashton Their backs to the camera, PAS volunteer Sarah Miller and Portland Parks &Recreation’s Mart Hughes release the owls, who depart so rapidly their wings are a blur.

A cadre of wildlife admirers and friends of Portland Audubon Society gathered in Tideman-Johnson Park on September 27, after word got out that two screech owls would be released along the park's Johnson Creek boardwalk.

While walking down to the park, Dr. Deb Sheaffer, DVM, staff veterinarian with the Portland Audubon Society's Care Center, told THE BEE about the event. 'We're releasing two owls that have been in our care - an adult that got caught in a rodent 'sticky trap', and a juvenile that had been attacked.'

They chose this particular release location, Sheaffer explained, because the adult owl most likely lived in the area before becoming entrapped at a nearby Ardenwald/Johnson Creek home.

Because the owl's wings were covered in sticky goo from the trap, Sheaffer said, veterinarians started out by oiling the birds wings to dissolve the adhesive, and then using mild soaps to wash away the oil. 'We had to repeat the process several times. After the bird was cleaned, it needed time to grow out its feathers, and regain strength.'

The other owl to be released came from Southwest Portland. 'It had been attacked by crows, and fell into a road; people saw it and brought it in,' Sheaffer continued. 'This owl had a lot of wounds from the crow attack. We had to treat for shock and infection.'

At the care center, the two owls 'bunked' together. 'The adult took the younger owl 'under its wing', so to speak, and taught how to hunt, and those kind of things. It learned how to be a screech owl from its surrogate parent!'

After providing medical care, the staff had minimal contact with the birds, we learned, so they don't become domesticated. After caring for the adult owl for about six weeks, and the youngster for about three weeks, both were ready to return to the wilds of Inner Southeast Portland.

Even though the owls had bonded to some extent, the veterinarian said that the adult will probably continue to mentor only for a few more weeks before running it out and starting to defend its territory.

On the boardwalk, Portland Parks and Recreation ecologist Mart Hughes praised 'Friends of Tideman-Johnson' for their restoration efforts, which have returned that section of Johnson Creek to near-native conditions.

One of the people watching the release that day was Ardenwald Johnson Creek neighbor Dave Barnes. 'We've used 'sticky traps' to catch rodents for quite a while. One morning, about 5 am, we went out and saw a blob caught in the trap. All of the sudden, it turned its head, and we saw it was an owl. We took it the Audubon Society.'

While she carefully took the owls out of their transport boxes, Sheaffer said she didn't know if the birds would fly off, or just sit for a while. When released, though, the birds did take wing, and flew up into the upper branches of nearby trees.

Neighbor Barnes looked pleased as he watched the bird depart. 'The lesson we learned is to not put out sticky traps where screech owls and other wild animals can get at them. Now, when we use sticky traps, we put them in a sheltered area where a dog, cat - or bird - can't get to it.'