Bird released off Route 520 between Goose Bay and North West River
© Derek Montague
Tony Chubbs (left) receives the owl from Frank Phillips.
A horned owl from Labrador, which spent three months recovering from an injury at Salmonier National Park, has finally flown home.
During the early afternoon of May 9, a group from North West River and Happy Valley-Goose Bay took the owl to a spot off Route 520, to be released back into the wild.
Back in February, Happy Valley-Goose Bay residents Joann and Hector Lethbridge found the injured owl off of the highway, not far from where it was released on May 9.
Frank Phillips, who used to be the province’s regional ecologist for Labrador, and his son Anautak drove up Route 520 to catch the owl so it could receive veterinary help. Upon finding the injured creature, Phillips assumed that it had hit a wire between the fibre optic poles and injured one of its wings.
Phillips knew that the owl needed to receive help at Salmonier Nature Park, located in Newfoundland, as soon as possible.
Provincial Airlines/Innu Mikun (PAL) quickly agreed to fly the owl to the nature park. The airline also provided the owl’s flight back to Labrador.
“PAL prides itself on being a good corporate citizen and, when Frank called me, we didn’t have any hesitation whatsoever, we just decided to cooperate right away,” said Innu Mikun managing director, Tom Randall, who was on hand to watch the owl be released.
Phillips was in contact with officials at Salmonier Nature Park, and kept tabs on the owl’s progress since February. Luckily, said Phillips, the wing was not broken, which made the owl’s recovery much smoother.
“They did an x-ray and what they told us is that there’s nothing broken,” said Phillips. “So it must be a sprain or a strained tendon, something like that.”
There were concerns that, after three months at the nature park in Newfoundland, the owl may not be willing to go home. Phillips decided to release the predatory bird as close to where it was originally found as possible, to make the transition easier.
“We’re coming back here because, we don’t know whether this owl is territorial or not and this here is part of it’s territory,” said Phillips. “Maybe this owl is a migrant, we don’t know, but we’re going to give him every chance to get back home.”
But, before the owl could be launched into air, somebody would have to carry the animal out of its wooden box. This task has some risk, since an owl’s talons are sharp.
Phillips asked Tony Chubbs, Happy Valley-Goose Bay town councilor and wildlife enthusiast, to help him with this tricky task. Chubbs knew how to handle the owl, without being caught in its hard grip.
“If they grab you by the talons it could go right through your gloves,” said Chubbs.
“So you got to grab above the talons so he can’t reach you.”
Phillips was able to hand the owl over to Chubbs, after being uncomfortably grabbed “below the belt” by one of the talons.
Chubbs held the owl by its legs and, with one quick upward motion, launched the majestic bird into the air.
The owl immediately spread its wings and flew off into a thicket of nearby trees. Those who helped release the bird, and several interested onlookers, smiled, as the bird was set free.
“I’ve released owls before that’s been captured in snares and whatnot,” said Chubbs.
“It’s pretty amazing to watch. Not very often you get close to a horned owl. They’re very secretive, and often they’re very well camouflaged of course.”