Once-injured Oakhurst owl soars to freedom above golf course

January 21, 2013

Great horned owl flies free. Photo by Jason Rogers.A young, great horned owl, rescued on the Oakhurst golf course last spring and nursed back to health, came home last week and was released to return to the wild.

The owl was barely a week old when he fell out of his nest last April and was attacked by a dog. An Oakhurst staff member found him on the ground with multiple lacerations and puncture wounds around his left eye.

The injured owl spent several days at the Lindsay Wildlife Museum in Walnut Creek before being transferred to the Wildlife Center of Silicon Valley (WCSV), where he spent the next nine months learning to be an owl. He moved in with a slightly older, but non-releasable, great horned owl that was already in residence.

“It’s important that young wild animals be raised with their own species so they don’t get attached to humans,” said Ashley Kinney, a staff member at WCSV. “He seemed comforted to have a buddy to perch with.”

The young owl had an insatiable appetite and he soon outgrew his shared quarters. The next move was to the center’s 50-foot raptor flight aviary, where he spent four months learning to fly and hunt.

This month, staff deemed the young owl mature enough to return to the wild. More than 30 observers gathered on the balcony at Oakhurst Country Club to watch the release on the afternoon of Jan. 12.

Mt. Diablo Elementary School student Kaylee Sutton, 10, was chosen to open the owl’s cage. Kinney asked the crowd to step back as the team positioned the carrier on the stone ledge and Kaylee pulled the door open.

But, then … nothing happened. It had been a long time since the young owl had seen his home turf and at the moment, the carrier must have looked a lot safer.

“We waited and waited – about 10 minutes or so,” said Oakhurst’s Nina Voss. “Ashley tapped on the carrier and repositioned it a few times.”

The team finally decided to lift the lid off the carrier and the young great horned owl took flight.

“Everyone gasped as the owl took off, wings spread wide and free, soaring through the sunset above the golf course,” said Voss. “It was worth the wait.

“He flew straight out over the trees and then with one big swoop down to the left into the trees, he was gone.”

WCSV is the largest wildlife rehabilitation center in Santa Clara County. For more information, contact Janet Alexander at (408) 929-WILD or go to wcsv.org.

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