We released two great gray owls at Carlos Avery for The Raptor Center this morning. The larger one on the left that Judy was holding was found with an eye injury in Duluth, the one I'm holding on the left was recovered in Iowa and had eye damage and a concussion.
Doing releases is one of the tougher parts of the job. The birds are still wild and unpredictable. All the birds in clinic have bands on their legs so when they are taken out of a flight room you can tell them apart. Since great gray owls have such thick feathers down their feet and their belly feathers hang low, there' no possible way you can ever read the bands. So TRC vets put a dab of nail polish on their bills to tell them apart (blue, purple, green, etc). So before they are released we have to use nail polish remover to clean off their bills.
Now, birds do not like to travel in cars. All the traffic zooming by really freaks them out. Normally, we transport birds in flight cages that are covered so they can't see what's going on. For releases, it's too difficult to put the bird in a cage, without risking it injuring itself by thrashing around. Plus, at releases the birds are handed off to a donor who gets to do the honors of letting the bird go. It's much easier to just hand the bird over. So, I had to go to TRC, pick up the bird and get in our car while someone drove the bird and I to the release site.
This is me with the great gray. We put a sheet over it's head so it won't be able to see what's going on in the car. Interestingly enough the bird wiggled enough a few times to get the sheet off its head. Bill was driving and couldn't help so I had to try and grab the sheet with my teeth and pull it over the head. You could feel the difference when the sheet was on and off the head. When the head was covered the bird breathed at a normal pace and you couldn't feel a heartbeat. As soon as the sheet came off, I could feel an increase in the breathing and feel a heartbeat so it's important to keep them covered and relaxed.
We got turned around a little bit, but we found the crowd and the tv cameras ready for the release. Non Birding Bill snapped this photo as one of the birds took off. I love how he not only got the bird in flight, but the excitement of the people watching.
After the bird was released, something odd happened. Bill asked for my binoculars and began pointing out where the owls went to others in the crowd. I'm so proud!! Down below he looks like an actual birder...it's only taken me ten years.
He looks so dreamy!