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Better to let nature take its course

Our house and out-buildings are surrounded on three sides by two creeks and a horseshoe-shaped timber. We are far enough away from the woods to enjoy the wildlife but usually not have to deal with the day-to-day problems that can arise from living in close proximity with them.

For several weeks, a pair of owls have been making their presence known behind the barn. Just about dark, they begin hooting, screaming and making other noises that can make the hair stand up on the back of a person's neck. I assumed they were doing what owls and everything else does in the spring. I know they were having a good time at whatever they were doing.

I like to have owls around. They may be noisy and make the chickens nervous, but are great to control the rodent and snake population. Nervous chickens are not my problem since I have no chickens, but I do have a few mice and rats around the farm.

A few years ago, a pair of saw-whet owls decided to nest in the barn. They spent all summer and most of the winter with us. The sparrow population decreased dramatically and I never saw a mouse while our little owl friends were with us.

Last weekend, we had a tremendous thunderstorm, complete with high winds, hail and copious amounts of rain. After the storm, while walking around the barn, checking for damage, I saw an owl hopping around the barn lot. I knew this could not be good. Owls do not hop around in broad daylight. I was sure the poor thing was injured.

The first thing I did was called my son, Damon, and asked him if he would like to come help me catch an injured owl. The first thing he asked was why. I hate it when someone comes up with an obvious response immediately when the question had never even occurred to me. Why would we get involved with an impossible situation? What could we do about it?

I sounded more like the kid with my "We have to do something."

He had the more reasonable adult logic of "Let nature take its course." Damon relented and drove over to help me while I called the Department of Natural Resources to see what we could do with an injured owl. I was informed about the types of injuries that were survivable and the prognosis if he had other injuries. He could be sent to a wildlife rehab specialist if his wing did not have a complete fracture or any internal injuries.

When Damon arrived, we donned heavy leather gloves and thickly padded coats. Even if we had good intentions, we did not expect him to enjoy being caught. When we got the injured owl cornered, he snapped his beak with a clacking noise that would convince anyone he would nip off a finger given half of a chance.

We determined he was a young barred owl. An adult is about 20 inches tall. This one was about 16 inches tall and his beak was still yellow. His talons seemed fully developed as they grabbed Damon's glove. His injuries seemed bad, but I did not want to give up on him if there was a chance of survival. We would put him in a dog kennel and see if rehab would take him in the morning.

The dog was not impressed, but I pulled out her blanket and toys, replacing them with a dish of water and some raw hamburger. The owl scowled at us when we shut him in for the night, hoping for the best.

Checking the kennel in the morning, I found our little owl's lifeless body crumpled in the corner. On examination, it was plain to see, the wing was severely broken and other internal injuries I am sure were also present. It was not to be. We can try, but usually, it is best if we let nature take its course.

Walter Scott is an outdoors enthusiast and freelance writer from Bloomfield, Iowa.