Saying Good-bye to Our Saw-whet Owl

Oct 1, 2016 / Student Blogs

[Noel was a saw-whet owl]

This week the Wildlife Medical Clinic said good-bye to a very special animal. On Thursday, September 29, our little northern saw-whet owl, Noel, passed away quietly in her outdoor aviary.

Noel had been with the wildlife clinic for nearly 10 years. She was brought in for care on December 5, 2006, with no function of her left wing. No fractures were identified on radiographs, but an injury had caused irreversible nerve damage. With this type of injury, the doctors knew that Noel would never be able to fly again or to survive in the wild.

We are incredibly grateful to have basked in your presence; rest in peace, little lady, and be free.

Dr. Nicki Rosenhagen

Faced with this reality, the students and staff had to make a difficult decision. The vast majority of wild animals do not tolerate captivity well. Despite our best intentions, the close proximity to humans and lack of natural stimulation combined with the pain and discomfort of the animal’s injury or illness make the rehabilitation process incredibly stressful.

But Noel was one of the few free-living wild animals who didn’t seem to be as bothered by captivity as her wild cousins, and her tiny stature and mild disposition had truly endeared her to her human caretakers. After much deliberation and research, the clinic staff decided that Noel might make a perfect addition to the clinic’s education program, and permission was obtained to keep her as a resident raptor.

Northern saw-whet owls are one of the smallest owls in North America, generally weighing in at 2.5 to 3.5 ounces (or 70 to 100 grams)! They are strictly nocturnal and fairly reclusive, so despite the fact that they are actually one of the most common owls in the country, few people ever lay eyes on them. Saw-whet owls are also known for having attitude in spite of their mini physique, and Noel was no exception.

During her time as an official wildlife ambassador with the wildlife clinic, Noel lived a life of service and captured the hearts of thousands. She helped children and adults alike not only learn about her and her species but also develop an appreciation and respect for wildlife.

Noel was poised and professional when she was teaching (though her slow movements and deliberate blinking put in mind the image of a small stuffed toy, bored with her slew of adoring fans). The impact that Noel made on the community and on the countless veterinary students who were fortunate to work with her was, and continues to be, profound.

The loss of Noel is one that we will be reeling from for some time, but we are comforted by the fact that she lived a very long, purposeful life that was filled with delicious mice.

We are incredibly grateful to have basked in your presence; rest in peace, little lady, and be free.

—Dr. Nicki Rosenhagen