UT-VMC emergency room tails: The barn owl escape

UTVMC ER TAILSBy Dr. Amanda Rainey

It was a quiet Sunday evening in mid November at the UTVMC Emergency Service.  I had just finished rounding with the fourth year veterinary students assigned to emergency duty concerning a topic of their choice, and it was time to do a scheduled check of the patients in the exotic animal ward across the hall.

Myself, the ER technician on duty that night, and an interested student made our way over to do a visual inspection of a hospitalized rabbit.  The exotic mammal ward is directly adjacent to the wildlife ward, and while we confirmed that “Chubbles” the rabbit was contentedly munching on his greens, we heard quite a ruckus emanating from next door.

“What is that?” The student asked with wide eyes and a hushed voice.  I shrugged my shoulders but being curious I turned off the rabbit’s light and headed straight for the room in question.  As soon as my hand touched the door handle the noise ceased.  I was in the lead with my technician directly behind me, with the now timid student a bit behind her.  I opened the door slowly and flipped on the light.  Nothing but silence greeted us, although I could tell that the plastic holding cages across from the door had been disrupted and must have been the cause of the noise we had detected.

The door softly shut behind us after we all entered the room, still in a loosely formed line.  Suddenly to my left, something fell to the ground with a soft plop.  I scanned the floor to realize it appeared to be bird waste material.

“Where did that come from?” I questioned out loud, and as soon as the words left my mouth an answer was upon us.  A large brown shape came gliding from the top of the 8 feet high cages by the door!  It flew back and forth through the room, swooping ever closer to our heads.  The student let out a small squeak and immediately slipped from the room, leaving just the two of us.

My technician and I instinctively covered our heads, all while she kept uttering, “Watch your eyes!  They’re attracted to shiny things!”  We must have looked quite the sight waving our hands and ducking up and down avoiding the still graceful flight of an injured Barn owl brought in earlier in the weekend.  

I scanned the room quickly and was able to identify not only the open cage door from whence the bird escaped, as well as a net leaning against the opposite corner wall.  My technician must have seen it at the same time, as she quickly grabbed the net and we spent the next few minutes bouncing around the room trying to corral this beautiful but intimidating creature.  

Thankfully the bird was subdued with no harm to human or avian species, and placed back in a cage, making extra sure that the lock was secured before leaving.  Our quiet evening had just provided a memory that we still laugh about today!  

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