Hoot. Hoot. Hoos that?
MARS Wildlife Hospital has a new ambassador bird and they need help naming it.
Barred Owl 783, as it’s currently known, came to the nonprofit wildlife rehabilitation centre in Merville after flying into a window in the dead of night in the Kye Bay area last September.
The family was woken at 1:30 a.m. to a loud sound. When they investigated in the morning, they found an owl.
Initial examinations showed his body was fine, but he’d clearly had a collision and had experienced a head trauma.
Warren Warttig, a wildlife biologist, who also happens to be the president of MARS, was asked to come in to check out the young bird.
“Even initially, we would put food in front of him and he wouldn’t recognize it as food,” he says. “We were worried about his sight.”
Caretakers were able to grab him from behind, not something you can normally do with a wild animal.
“Every wild animal would have a flight or fight response and he just went OK,” says Warttig. “He wouldn’t even fly for a while.”
Even when he – though MARS caretakers aren’t sure of the owl’s gender, they’ve been referring to it as he – did start to fly, he’d hang upside down for half-an-hour, says Warttig. Slowly, Barred Owl 783 came to recognize that mice equalled food and would feed himself. He’s a lot more animated now than he was when he came in.
MARS has even been using Barred Owl 783 as a surrogate for some of the baby owl patients they cared for this year.
“He would move closer to them so they could stay warm and even get in front of them if we would get into the room,” says Warttig.
He’s popular with visitors as well, according to volunteer Jan Smith.
“He’s quite comfortable being right at the front,” she says. “He’s not concerned about the crowds and that makes him very appealing to kids.”
Ambassador bird permits must go through the B.C. government and the process to get Barred Owl 783 approved for the status was a long one.
A veterinarian or veterinarian technician – or both – have to sign off on why the animal can’t be released back into the wild.
“You can’t just get a healthy animal,” says Warttig. “That would be under a falconry permit. We don’t do that.”
They visited the vet, but coronavirus and bureaucracy delayed the process. Finally, Barred Owl 783 got approval.
Now, he will help show MARS visitors young and old what a Barred Owl looks like up close and personal. He’ll also be a conduit to share other important information with visitors like populations and habitat as well as what people can do to have less of an impact on wildlife.
He’s a little less wild than other MARS’ other ambassador birds, so he can last longer outside his enclosure than others.
But MARS needs the community’s help. It’s currently holding a contest on its website to come up with a name for the bird.
MARS already has one Barred Owl named Shakespeare, who Barred Owl 783 shares a home with. But other name suggestions from youth up to 18-years-old are welcomed at marswildliferescue.com/namebird/ until Monday, Oct. 19. Then, the vet team will narrow down the options and MARS will put the decision out as a poll on its Facebook page.
“By the end of the month,” says Smith, “he will not be a no-name bird anymore.”