Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Goal #767: Raise an Owl as a Pet

I’ve always wanted to raise an owl. I used to love listening to them as they hooted outside my window on those balmy summer night on the plains of Minnesota.

When I was about 21 years old, I shared an apartment with my friend Rick in California. One day, Rick came home with two owl babies. When I asked him where he got them, he simply said he “borrowed” them from a nest he found in the cliffs near the school. I knew not to ask any more questions. That was it; they were not going back.

We named the owls Igor and Mr. Wilson. I have no idea if they were male or female, but that wasn’t important. They were barn owls; the ones with the cool looking round face. From what I could tell they were only a couple of weeks old because they were still covered in down and had no pin feathers. 

Our first problem was to figure out what to feed them. Rick worked in a super market so he brought home some nice cuts of meat, better than anything we were eating. After a month of hand feeding them, Igor lost the use of his right wing. A week later his leg was fully paralyzed. We called a vet and found out that owls don’t do well on cuts of meat from the butcher block, no matter how expensive the meat is. They need all the stuff that comes from eating live animals like mice and voles. The vet told us that Igor suffered a stroke from a lack of essential minerals and vitamins he would have gotten from a diet of live mice. We ended up putting Igor to sleep. That was really hard to do.

For Mr. Wilson, we made up for all the mistakes we made with Igor. We spend hours combing the vacant lots and fields looking for mice. One time Rick came home with a box of 24 mice he found in a nearby field. That would last us nearly a week. When he got home our girl friends were there waiting for us so Rick put the box inside the house with something on the top to make sure the mice didn’t escape. Unfortunately, by the time we got back home we found that the mice had chewed their way out of the box and all 24 mice were loose in our tiny apartment.

Rick’s solution to the problem was simple; capture 2 very large blow snakes and let them loose in the house to catch the mice. Our girl friends refused to come into our apartment long after the snakes disappeared. Afte At night we would hear the mice running across the room and on the counters. I would sit in my bed by the light switch and wait to hear the sound of mice running across the counter. When I heard them, I would switch the light on and Rick would skewer them with his blow gun.

Mr. Wilson eventually grew up to be a healthy adult barn owl.  A friend of ours who lived by us took Mr. Wilson with him to work each day and he would stay on a perch outside his office window. One day Mr. Wilson flew off and we never saw him again. That was a sad day for all of us. Raising Mr. Wilson was a great experience. I don’t think would do it again, but I’m glad I had a chance to do it once. I will never look at owls the same way again.

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