Haunting Owls

RESIDENT RAPTOR Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center’s ambassador ‘Owlivia’ is a Western Screech Owl.Photo: Colleen Grzan

Halloween seems to bring out the creativity in pet owners who make the cutest, cleverest, and funniest costumes for their dogs, big and small, to parade around in. There are even costumes for feline pets, but I wouldn’t try putting one any of on my own cats unless I planned to look like a flesh-torn zombie afterward.

Some of the costumes strive to transform domestic, home-bound critters into really wild animals. Your pets can become dinosaurs, skunks, tigers, lions and bears—oh my! Or they can take to the sky—figuratively speaking—as an owl (Google “owl dog costume”).

Because most owls are nocturnal, hunting in the darkness with eerily staring eyes and emitting spooky hoo-hoo-hoots or screeches, their images have long been a popular Halloween theme.

But sometimes, the notion can be taken too far. One unfortunate great horned owl was cruelly Halloween-pranked by unknown persons who spray-painted it a bright orange. Luckily, the owl was rescued in time and brought to Heckhaven Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Louisiana, where it required an immediate and delicate process to remove the paint from its feathers before it became sick. It is fortunate that the paint was water-based, not oil, and most of the paint came off fairly easily with a special soap and water, though it was then necessary to keep the owl until it could be assured that its feathers were once again waterproofed and “silent.”

Barnadette, the Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center’s (WERC) educational barn owl, was another unfortunate recipient of a misguided attempt to use a wild bird of prey as part of a Halloween costume, but with more tragic consequences. She was found on the driveway of a home in Gilroy, unable to fly, and was brought to WERC in Morgan Hill. X-rays showed that her left wing had been illegally pinioned, which is surgical amputation at the wrist to prevent flight (a procedure commonly used on domestic ducks and geese). She would never be able to be released back to the wild.

Afterward, WERC discovered that the barn owl had been seen that Halloween, perched as a prop on the shoulder of a person dressed as Harry Potter!

Should you or your children plan to dress up as Harry this Halloween, be authentic and legal: get a toy snowy owl—the correct species of Harry’s pet, Hedwig.

To be sure, not all Halloween animal fiascos are intentionally malicious. Take the case of a little screech owl that perhaps thought some plastic spiders were a potential tasty meal and flew into fake spider web that was strung between trees at a home in Marin County a few years ago. The owl was stuck and struggling for several hours before it was rescued and transported to WildCare in San Rafael, where it was treated for dehydration and released a few days later where it had been found—and after the family removed the decorative webbing between the houses.

Contact Colleen Grzan at [email protected].

Leave your comments