FOUNTAIN HILLS, AZ — Good Samaritans to the rescue! A great horned owl is now recovering at Liberty Wildlife in Phoenix after getting trapped in barbed wire near Fountain Hills.
Jeff Miller, a building inspector from the Town of Fountain Hills, was driving home from work down the Beeline Highway near Shea Boulevard Monday when he saw the bird. While most drivers just drove past the owl, Miller turned around and came back to try and free the bird.
"I've always had a heart for animals, especially an animal in distress," said Miller.
"I really wanted to get up there to try and get it off the fence. Stop it from suffering and possibly hurting itself more," said Miller.
He had to climb up a pretty steep and rocky embankment to get to the wire fence.
"When I walked up to it, I covered it with my overshirt that I had. That seemed to keep it really calm," said Miller.
"I went to work at trying to free it. The first wing came off pretty easily. The second one, the flesh was really wrapped up in the barbed wire", he added.
Miller did not give up.
As he worked to free the owl, Amy Burnett an Arizona Game and Fish employee got a text from a friend who had just driven by the rescue effort.
Burnett, who has had experience with rescuing hundreds of birds, immediately sprang into action.
"I just grabbed my wire cutters and my big thick gloves and carrier and drove out there as fast as I legally could, and turned out he was still there," said Burnett.
The two worked together to free the bird. Cutting the razor wire around the wing was tough as the wire was old and rusty, said Burnett. They had to cut as close to the wing as possible, and leave a small section lodged in the bird for a medical team to take care of.
Burnett then loaded up the injured owl in a carrier and drove it to Liberty Wildlife, a non-profit organization that treats and rehabilitates injured wildlife.
"Luckily we didn't see any breaks to the wings and anywhere else, so it looked healthy," said Laura Hackett, a wildlife biologist with Liberty Wildlife.
The medical team and volunteers at the organization treated 12,000 animals in 2020. From all kinds of birds of prey, to coyotes, reptiles, raccoons, squirrels, and even rabbits, the organization cared for the animals until they were healthy enough to be returned to their natural habitat.
Those that could not be freed, were kept on as part of the educational programs hosted by the organization. Some were even kept as 'foster parents' for other baby animals who had lost their parents.
Hackett said they currently have five owls in their ICU and about 10 others in an outside enclosure with 'foster parents.'
"What happens with these owls is they're so laser focused on their food, and they're going to swoop down and go after it without thinking of anything else around them. It's what leads them to get hit by cars when they're flying at night to get their food. This one was probably going after a mouse or something when it flew into the barbed wire," said Hackett.
Burnett said she was grateful Miller 'gave a hoot' and stopped to save this great horned owl.
"If it weren't for him, this bird would have died on that fence. I'm just really grateful he was there and he stopped," Burnett said.
Hackett said they expect to see many injured birds coming in this time of year. If you happen to see baby birds that have fallen out of their nests and appear uninjured, it's okay to place them back in their nests.
For birds of prey like owls, hawks, and eagles, Hackett said it was best to contact an expert as the talons of the birds could be extremely strong. The animal rescue hotline number is 480-998-5550.
Hacket said animals such as bats and foxes that could have rabies should never be handled by anyone who has not received a rabies vaccine. Contact the animal rescue hotline number for those rescues.
You can learn more about Liberty Wildlife and the work they do at Liberty Wildlife.