The events of Adger, the barred owl’s recovery and release are told by Barbara Dawson, Satterfield’s Business Manager. We hope you enjoy this heartwarming story that happened right here in our backyard.
It was January 9th, the Monday after the annual (or so it seems) snow/ice storm that shuts the city down for a day or so. The frost was melting away, and Alabama was going to play for the national championship that evening. The restaurant was closed, but some of the managers had come in to do some work. It just may have been the luckiest day of Adger’s life.
Adger the barred owl was stranded, cold, and barely responsive. He was trying to stay out of harm’s way on our patio. GM, Kevin Moore, noticed him out there and came inside to mention it to me. I guess you’d consider me the bird nerd of the Satterfield’s family—of course our owner, Becky Satterfield is an avid backyard bird and wildlife watcher, too, but he guessed rightly that I’d want to check it out. It was obvious from the melted snow (indicating that he’d been there for a while) and his lack of immediate flight that he was injured or ill. The night temperatures were going to drop below 20 degrees and that would be very dangerous for an owl with no shelter, food or hydration. We had to do something, but what?
Thank Goodness for Alabama Wildlife Center
After fretting and googling and sending out an APB on Facebook, we got the number for the Alabama Wildlife Center hotline. Whoever was manning the phone that day, all I can say is bless her heart because I was worried and frightened for our little guy. I may have blubbered a little bit, too…
A little later that afternoon, Holly came and with gloves, a sheet, and a cozy box, captured Adger and took him to the AWC clinic. He was examined for broken bones, hydrated and warmed. His diagnosis: concussion. This happens fairly frequently with raptors. They zero-in on a potential meal and the occasional vehicle will cross their high-speed path. It is one of the many consequences of our increasingly shared habitat with wildlife.
Volunteering for Adger’s Recovery
I was so impressed with Holly and everyone that I’d dealt with at AWC that I looked into volunteering the very next day. I’ve been coming to the clinic, located within Oak Mountain State Park, a couple of Sundays a month or so, and I have witnessed some truly marvelous things, not the least of which is the small army of volunteers who are so committed to helping these native song birds, water fowl, and raptors regain their independence.
The clinic is just that: a small hospital with new admissions every day—especially in the late spring and throughout the summer, referred to as “baby bird season”, when hundreds of orphaned nestlings and fledglings will get a fighting chance because a good neighbor took the time to bring in an injured bird or called for help from an AWC volunteer. Hummingbirds, woodpeckers, owls, hawks, vultures, crows, cardinals, finches—and each species with its own dietary and care needs. The nestlings are fed every half hour from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., requiring very accurate record keeping and a LOT of food prep!
There are incubators in the nursery where the tiniest newborns are monitored, ICU spaces, and isolation rooms for the newest arrivals who need dark, warm, and quiet to reduce the shock—a deadly threat to birds. It’s not all Grey’s Anatomy though. The nursery is hectic but joyful, and feeding the song birds in the outdoor enclosures can be quite an adventure! The younger ones will sometimes congregate all over you, trying to be first for the hand-feeding. A juvenile vulture, whose injuries prevented his being returned to the wild, was being trained to become more accustomed to human engagement. He was so mischievous and intelligent.
Not only did Adger have a successful recovery with all the love and attention he received at AWC, he was a star patient. Inside the clinic he acted as a foster dad to some of the orphaned owls that that came through this past Spring and Summer. He essentially taught them how to be owls, so they could have their own freedom party too!
Becky and I knew from the day Adger was rescued that we wanted to have a party for him when he was ready for release. So many of our Facebook followers had expressed concern back in January and had followed the updates since his rescue, and we knew they’d want to be a part of the celebration. The birds are returned to the wild as close as possible to the place where they were rescued, so what better place than a restaurant parking lot for a little party?! We also knew that this could be a good opportunity to raise awareness about the work of the AWC, and hopefully raise a few dollars as well.
We coordinated with Scottie Jackson, Director of Education and Outreach, and this past Sunday she came out with a volunteer and a couple of the Education Ambassadors (glove-trained raptors who travel to events and engagements). Coosa, another barred owl came so that everyone could see the type of owl Adger is, and a great horned owl, BR1 (they’re still working on a name for her!) were on hand for photo ops while Scottie and Erin answered lots of questions. Somewhere between 30 and 40 folks came out to see him off. There was lemonade, cookies, pimiento cheese and Conecuh sausage, watermelon, party favors, and stickers for everyone. Scottie gave a short talk about owls and where and how they live, and then it was time.
It was about 7:15 or 7:30, and Scottie offered to let me release him when the time came. I have to admit, this was my secret (ok, not-so-secret) hope from the beginning: that maybe, if I’d spent enough hours in the clinic and handled some of the raptors there, then just maybe I’d get to send him to freedom. I am by no means relaxed or skillful handling raptors with talons of death, but I felt like I could do right by Adger. Scottie showed me what to do, and passed him over to my Kevlar-gloved hands, hanky over his head until the last moment.
Owls can hear a human heartbeat from across the room, and this anxious fellow was held close to my chest, facing outward. If he knew what a marching band was, I’m sure he would have thought that’s what he was hearing! I was excited for him, nervous because I wanted to do it just right, so happy that so many friends and family came out to be a part of this wonderful occasion. I tried to slow my breathing and send him some calm vibes.
Scottie took the hanky off his head. She warned me that sometimes the light and open air will cause them to immediately try to fly off. I held his feet between my fingers as securely as I could, and fortunately he stayed settled in my hands. There were a couple of minutes for people to take some pictures and then a countdown: Three! Two! One! I extended my arms upward and opened my hands freeing him to fly away. He lighted on a nearby tree, to applause and cheers.
What a joyful moment! And so wonderful to share with fellow staff, friends and family. We are a community, and that community extends beyond humanity. We share space with feathered keepers of the wild and it felt really good to acknowledge that on Sunday.
Need to Know Information About the Alabama Wildlife Center
The Alabama Wildlife Center is always happy to have more volunteers, and always happy to have donations. They are available all the time and you can leave a message and someone will call you back to talk you through what to do and, sometimes more importantly, what not to do. You can learn more about them, their programs and events at www.awrc.org.