Sunday, November 27, 2005

The Hunter, Felled

Driving on a two-lane road around midnight after Thanksgiving dinner, E. saw a the car in front of him hit a bird. A flash of pale-brown feathers glanced off the side of the Mercedes, which, incidentally, was driven by E.'s mother. She continued driving.

The bird fell like a stone. It lay on the middle of the blacktop, flailing wildly. A cold rain spattered the ground as E. stopped to check the bird. It was a small Western screech owl, and its back or wings seemed to be broken. Concerned, E. called his nephew to bring a shoebox. The plan was to take the bird to an animal hospital the next morning.

His nephew, B., arrived a few minutes later. When E. tried to coax the bird inside the towel-lined box, the owl, which was lying face down, turned his head and calmly fixed his bright yellow-brown eyes on him.

"He gave me such a knowing look," E. said later, sadly.

After a moment, the owl turned and faced the ground again. B. gently picked up the bird, about the size of a mini loaf of bread, and placed it into the box. Then E. drove to his brother's office/guest house, which is where we're staying for the Thanksgiving holiday. I was already there, asleep.

Early the next morning, I checked on the bird. It looked so small, and its cinammon-colored feathers seemed so soft and fine. The owl was still lying face down. And it didn't stir. Fearing the worst, E. and I high-tailed it to the Lindsay Wildlife Museum, which has a wildlife hospital. We arrived as soon as we could, just 15 minutes after it opened at 9.

But we were too late. The owl had died during the night. The hospital employee said it probably suffered massive head and/or body trauma. Unfortunately, the hospital gets many cases like this, she said. The owl was likely hunting, and it was zooming in on its prey when the car ran headlong into it.

Development has encroached so much into the northern California hillsides and mountains (and seemingly everywhere else), that there is precious little room for any other living creature besides humans to survive. We looked so stricken that the employee tried to make us feel better by saying that we had done as much as we could.

We thanked her quietly, made a donation to help other animals, and went next door to the museum, where a handful of birds of prey, owls, and other wildlife lived. All of them were inadvertently injured by humans. Some had only one wing. Another is blind in one eye.

Charity begins at home: I suggested to E. that instead of exchanging gifts with our families this Christmas - and really, who needs another sweater, book, DVD/CD/videogame?! - to instead donate to their favorite charities, and vice versa. The Lindsay Wildlife Museum will be one of the charitable organizations we'll ask our families to support instead of giving us presents. Another is Second Chance, a wildlife rehabilitation center near Washington, D.C.

Donating to charities, instead of buying in to the mad, credit-card draining, debt-building consumer rush that the holidays seem to have become, seems a more generous, thoughtful way to celebrate the holidays.

Just my two cents.

(Running update to come ....)


  1. The Lindsay Wildlife Museum is a great place. We used to live about 3 miles from it - it was a great place to spend an afternoon with the kids. Seeing the Bald Eagle only a few feet away - without a cage - really magestic!
    Anyway - love the place! It's great that you tried to save the owl.
    Happy Running!

  2. What a great idea. I'm all over that charity thing. I need another gee-gaw like a hole in the head. (Though I wouldn't mind diamond earrings if anyone.... oh never mind.)

    A sad, brave story.

  3. I do like that idea (speaking as someone whose how is bursting at the seams).

    I once stopped to pick up a bird I had hit with my truck. It was breathing so I put it in the truck to drive it somewhere (didn't know where). Maybe just to let it die by itself before getting flattened by the next car.

    The darn thing woke up and started flying around the truck. And it pooped on the seat too.

  4. Now I know what to get for holiday gifts. Thanks.