An injured adult barred owl was recently presented to the Wildlife Medical Clinic. At the triage exam, we assessed this animal to have head trauma, with notable bruising around the right ear, bloody nasal discharge, blood in the right eyeball, and a dull mentation. We started the owl on fluid therapy and pain medication to prevent further brain injury due to her trauma. The severity of her signs was concerning, and we were initially very guarded on her prognosis. She was assessed frequently, medications adjusted as needed, and we remained hopeful she would respond well to her care.
She did just that and we saw an improvement in the owl’s mentation due to our
treatments! Unfortunately, her right eye was not responding to care. After a week and a half, it was clear this owl was stable, but her eye injury was irreversible. An owl’s eye is a huge component of their skull, communicating with parts of the ear canal. As such, an untreated eye injury in an owl can impact their ability to hunt by worsening their ability to hear. Knowing this potential consequence if we left the eye in place, we elected for an evisceration of the globe (a procedure where we ‘scoop’ out the contents of the eye socket but leave the overall structure intact) to prevent any further irritation or pain for the patient moving forward.
After surgery, we gave her a week of medical support and management before the patient was transferred to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Owls are so dependent on their ability to hear when hunting, they can be released with one eye missing, as long as the facial disk and hearing is intact. We assess this ability to hear by collaborating with licensed wildlife rehabilitators and ensuring these animals demonstrate a successful ability to hunt prior to release.
Overall, this patient was with the Wildlife Clinic for three weeks. Along the way, she helped many students learn in every aspect of medical care; from emergency triage, the treatment plans, to surgery reports. We are grateful for all that she taught us and proud to have been a part of getting this owl back to the wild, ready to hunt another day!
Written by Alexis Davidson, class of 2023.