Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Owl in the Chimney? Who You Gonna Call?

Darin Handy and his new friend.
This was a once in a lifetime experience, or at least I hope so.

Yesterday evening after about a day of hearing scratching noises in the fireplace, I convinced Larry that we should explore the source of the noise.  If a mouse dies in the chimney, I explained, we would have to move out until the smell dissipated.  I was concerned.  The cat was concerned.  She kept staring up into the chimney, knowing that a heartbeat was trapped up there.

So how do you get a live animal out of your chimney?  We opened the damper, placed a large storage tub underneath, and kept an old sheet close by to throw over the tub after the animal fell into the tub.  That was a good plan, but the animal in the chimney was not cooperative.  After a while, we gave up, closed the damper and went to bed.

This morning I gave it a new start with the open damper and a tub underneath.  Waiting, waiting, waiting, didn't work.  I heard some scratching around, so I got down on my knees and looked up the chimney.  A white face stared back.  Oh, shoot!  A possum!  So I freaked out a little and got a flashlight that revealed a heart-shaped white face of an owl.  Now how the heck did that happen.

Larry and I looked at each other, what else to do?  While we waited for the owl to drop down into the tub, I called everyone in Smyth County who might be able to get an owl out of a chimney.  I first called a chimney sweep.  Removing trapped owls was not in his job description, he claimed.  He suggested animal control.  I had to leave a message with the sheriff's office (whose dispatcher, when I explained what had happened, said, "Awwwwww!") for animal control to call me back.  Then I called the vet's office who referred me to either the fire department or the Department of Wildlife and Inland Fisheries.

The Department of Wildlife and Inland Fisheries was extremely interested and asked many detailed questions about the appearance of the bird.  What you have here, little lady, he said, is a barn owl.  Which, as it turns out, is not so common to see around here.  He needed to talk to the biologists and would call me back.  Then animal control called me back.

It sounded as though animal control was laughing a little, when he told me that this was not his usual call.  You need to call a guy, he said, named Darin Handy.  Darin is a certified wildlife rehabilitation specialist.  So I called Darin, who was really excited about the whole deal.  He came by this afternoon and proceeded to think through how to pull a barn owl out of our chimney.

It turns out that the way to do it is to have some heavy duty gloves and wear long sleeves.  Then you put an umbrella up the chimney and open it up to keep the owl from trying to fly up the chimney.  Then you reach in with your gloved hand and ever-so-gently pull the bird down by holding its talons because the claws are the business end of an owl.

The owl looks a lot bigger OUTSIDE the chimney!
It was much more complicated than I ever dreamed.  Darin put a towel over the owl's head while he examined the bird and determined that he was not injured or dehydrated.  He then began to reason through what to do with the owl.  He called other rehab specialists.  We all thought the owl came from the old apple barn down by Chestnut Ridge Road, so Darin's first stop would be to see if there was a nest close by where the owl's parents would be, for the owl was not quite an adult.  If Darin couldn't locate the nest, he would take the owl back to his shelter until he felt it was ready to be released, maybe this evening as it begins to get dark.

Darin told us that barn owls do not drop down on their prey as screech owls do, but they fly low to the ground as though searching a grid.  They can also see animal urine on the ground as a fluorescent so they know where prey is located.  They are the only owls that can do this.  Barn owls also have a piercing screech (which was demonstrated in our family room).  Darin explained that this flushes out prey when the owl is on the hunt.

The owl gets an exam before Darin gets him ready to be released.
Darin operates All Are God's Creatures Sanctuary in Marion, Virginia, for exotic animal rescue and wildlife rescue.  He knows more about barn owls than anyone else I've ever met, I think.  He does secular programs about animals as well as having a Biblical creation ministry, and his website is www.allareGodscreatures.com.

I am glad that this is a once in a lifetime experience.  I just hate when company "drops in" on you.