Injured Great-horned Owl faces world without one eye, but with new lease on life, thanks to dedicated staff and volunteers

By Director of Animal Care, Dr. Duane Tom, DVM

Did you know that the natural predator of skunks is the Great Horned Owl?   In the beginning of September we actually got one that had been skunked!  Along with the stench, it also appears that it turns their feathering a dark reddish orange.  This (presumptive) male appeared as if he might have gotten sprayed in the face and then crashed into something, causing head trauma and severe damage to the left eye.

We tried medically treating his eye for a couple weeks, hoping he could recover his vision.  As time went on, we could finally get a good view of what was going on within the eye and it became apparent that he would not be able to see out of it again.  As well, there was likely nerve or soft tissue damage around the outer eye and his cornea began to ulcerate.

Because owls greatly rely on their sense of hearing in hunting prey, we give these birds a chance to see how they adapt to having just one eye.  We perform a procedure called, an “Evisceration”, which is removing all the contents of the eye itself, but leaving the protective boney globe in order to retain conformation of the head.  Doing so is believed to help retain their normal hearing orientation for locating prey.

After his surgery he recovered in ICU, also needed a second touch-up surgery about a week later.   While recuperating in the hospital, he got a visit from Mary Tafi, one of the people who rescued him along with her class of first-graders from Our Lady of Malibu School, who sent him a “Get Well” booklet with heart-felt drawings.

The area soon healed and he was finally able to go out to a flight enclosure, much to the delight of his care-givers who had to medicate him, as he was likely the most bitey owl we have ever dealt with. While conditioning his flying, he continued to do well outside, except he was not very keen on having a roommate.  He would persistently show signs of aggression towards another Great Horned Owl that was moved out with him.  When we noticed him attacking the other owl we had to give him an enclosure all to himself.

On November 1st, we took him back to his home for release just as the sun had set.  It was a big event, attended by the rescuer’s family, friends and students.  We were pleased to have Ms. Tafi have the pleasure of releasing him.  It was a touching moment for all as he flew off into the twilight sky.