Barred Owl: from head trauma to flight
An adult barred owl was brought to the Wildlife Medical Clinic on a cold February day. Volunteers quickly appreciated classic signs of head trauma: dazed look, inappropriate reaction times, blood in the mouth and nares, and even a deviated mandible (lower jaw).
As the owl had been kept at a general practice veterinary clinic for several days, the head trauma was not new. Our volunteers recognized that our preferred head trauma fluids work best within the first 24 hours of the injury, so began to pursue other options. The bird was clearly dehydrated, so the triage team began a regular replacement fluid regimen. Due to suspected injury from traumatic force, volunteers also decided to start anti-inflammatory and pain medications.
The owl was transferred to a team, and they decided to take radiographs. The bird was – somewhat surprisingly – intact. This was excellent news, combined with the patient’s speedy recovery to a normal plane of consciousness and mentation. With the anti-inflammatory, the mandible even began returning to its normal position, and the patient was able to use its beak to clack defensively, and even try to bite a helpful volunteer.
Initially, the barred owl did not eat thawed mice and chicks left in its cage. The team was unsure if the inappetance was related to the stress of captivity, poor mentation from the head trauma, or pain from its beak. Initial attempts at assisted feedings went well, as the bird displayed a functional beak when prehending pieces of mice that were presented. Eventually, volunteers were able to stop assisted feedings and the patient began successfully eating on its own. As the owl returned to normal function with continued supportive care, the team gradually weaned pain medications.
The team performed basic flight and wing function tests, and the owl passed with flying colors (pun intended). Once it was cleared for release, volunteers returned it to its county of origin in Illinois on February 14, 2018 (Valentine’s Day). The barred owl never looked back.