At first, Patricia Tallman thought the bird of prey was dead.
â€œShe was hanging on to the top of the fence,â€ Tallman said. She had spotted the bird during a morning walk with her dog on May 2 in Willoughby, along a fence dividing R.E. Mountain Secondary and the Langley Event Centreâ€™s playing fields.
Tallman passed the motionless bird, thinking that it might have been left there as a sick joke. Initially she didnâ€™t even recognize it as an owl, she said.
She eventually called the police to look into it, and a call back let her know that the bird had still been alive.
A group of Langley Township firefighters helped take it down later that day, and handed it over to a volunteer from the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) of Delta.
OWLâ€™s caretakers found the bird seriously injured.
The great horned owl had somehow managed to pierce her lower beak with a sharp part of the fence.
â€œShe ended up breaking her jaw,â€ said Martina Versteeg, one of the bird care staff at OWL.
â€œIt was touch and go whether she would make it or not,â€ Tallman said.
The staff and vets tried to piece back together the owlâ€™s shattered beak with rods and pins, but ultimately failed. For a time they were hand-feeding the bird.
Despite the serious injury that cost her about an inch of her lower beak, the bird began doing better and putting weight back on, said Versteeg.
â€œSheâ€™s quite the trooper,â€ Versteeg said.
After some time in captivity, it became clear that she could not only eat, but could still hunt on her own. OWL volunteers tested her in captivity to see if she could catch her own food, and made sure she could still rip and tear effectively, essential skills for a predatory bird.
â€œShe was really ready to go,â€ said Versteeg.
On Friday, Oct. 24, the owl was released again, not far from where she had been found, but across the field and away from the fence, near a wooded area.
She flew straight into the woods, said Tallman.
â€œIt was really amazing,â€ Tallman said of the experience of seeing the bird head back into the wild.
The firefighters who had helped out with her capture and delivery to OWL were there, including one who had been clawed a bit during her rescue.
Tallman said that a lot of people had walked past the owl that morning in May, all of them thinking she was dead â€“ the owl had been keeping still to avoid attracting attention while wounded.
When faced with a wounded animal, Tallman recommends people call one of the rescue agencies, including OWL for wild predatory birds, or Langleyâ€™s own Critter Care, which takes in injured mammals from bears and deer down to flying squirrels.