One evening this past July 4, Mark Bess and son Mason, a sixth-grader at New London Elementary, found an owl sitting on the ground next to a pond near the back of their property.
It looked dazed, did not attempt to fly and had a very strong skunk odor, so they called Maribeth Taylor, who along with husband Stan, operates God’s Little Critters. She agreed the bird needed rescuing and asked Bess if he was willing to follow a few safety instructions in transporting the bird to the facility located north of Willard. He agreed, and the bird arrived safely in a cardboard box.
Taylor learned quickly why the bird was not in the best of condition, because as Bess indicated, it was very obvious it had been sprayed by a skunk.
According to a site published by the International Owl Center on the Internet, great horned owls are carnivores (meat eaters) and “eat almost anything that moves.” They follow this statement with an extensive list of what they will eat, which includes mice, rats, rabbits, ducks, ground squirrels, woodchucks and on and on, including skunks.
Apparently the skunk that sprayed this owl got away, leaving her temporarily blind and in shock, because she did not offer any resistance when Mark placed her in a box.
Taylor says skunk spray can affect eyes to some degree even in humans, and this poor owl got a good dose of it. In addition, she could not stand, because she was unable to hunt for food for several days and arrived highly emaciated. Another day of starvation would probably have been too late to save her.
For the first couple of days the owl was given electrolytes, and once her metabolism stabilized, small portions of cut-up mice were introduced. (The mice are specially bred for these birds and are shipped in from out of state, frozen, then thawed prior to feeding.)
Once the owl began to recover her eyesight and ingest food on her own, she was removed from her quarantine status to a small enclosure and in time, to a large flight aviary. This was a four-month process in preparation for release.
The goal of God’s Little Critters is to rehabilitate animals so they can be returned to their natural habitat, if at all possible. Fortunately, this owl qualified, so on November 25 Taylor and the Besses took her back to where she was found and released her.
She took off immediately, flying low over a cornfield until she was out of sight, returning to the woods behind the field where she no doubt had a nest in one of the trees.
Taylor says great horned owls (named for the ear tufts on their head) are the largest of the owl family and females are larger than the males. She estimates this female weighed around 4 pounds and was between 20 and 25 inches long with a wing span of between 4 and 5 feet.
Taylor says it is amazing the things humans do without thinking about the consequences and how they will affect animals. For example, the best time to cut down or trim trees is in the fall, not in the spring. Birds and small animals nest and give birth in the spring, and if they are disturbed the result is usually tragedy for the animal and its young.
Also, it is usually not necessary to “rescue” a baby animal unless it is obvious the parents are dead or the animal cannot fend for itself. Nature has many interesting and effective ways of raising its babies and sometimes humans unknowingly cause harm when they are trying to help. If in doubt, call a wildlife expert such as Taylor for help in determining whether or not an animal needs assistance.
Taylor says the Bess family did the right thing by calling her because the owl would not have survived without human intervention. She adds, “They are people that not only care about animals, but they care about life. People who respect wildlife respect people.”
She also points out in this case, “The owl’s unfortunate incident was not the fault of humans but of nature itself.” She says in her experience most of these incidents where animals need help is when they are harmed in some way by humans. She adds out of the over 300 wild ones she has rescued this year, only three cases were nature-related.
God’s Little Critters served around 3,000 people in Huron County in the past year with a budget between $55,000 and $60,000. This money comes from sources such as individual donations, donations from wildlife educational programs, grants, fundraisers, help from organizations and the New London, Willard and Norwalk united funds, along with in-kind donations.
Taylor says this year has been a hard one financially because the needs continue to grow and funds are “down to the tail feathers.”
God’s Little Critters is a non-profit organization and all donations are tax-deductible. The facility holds the necessary state and federal permits and operates under strict regulations and inspections.
The mission of God’s Little Critters is to “operate a shelter for the care and rehabilitation of injured and orphaned wild animals for re-release into their natural habitat. This non-profit corporation was established in 1994 to educate and inform the public on care, protection, preservation and enhancement of wildlife.”
Taylor is available to give educational programs to churches, schools and various organizations from September through April, and she suggests groups make their reservations early.
Memorial and congratulation donations can be made, and the appropriate card will be sent to the special person(s) notifying them of the gift. For more information on programs, donations, or how to volunteer, call 419-935-1782 or write to 1609 Peru Center Road, Willard, Ohio 44890.