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Great Horned Owl Rescued by Bastrop Team

July 03, 2023
Maribel Salazar, Victoria Ralls

Great Horned Owl Rescued by Bastrop Team

On a dimly lit July night, Public Safety Officer Bethany Hoefer’s sharp eyes led her to a creature who, despite its own spectacular vision, had entangled itself on a barbwire fence. 

A little after 3 a.m., Hoefer was performing her normal work duties patrolling around campus when something caught her attention. 

“I saw a movement at the fence line with my Kubota’s headlights and I had to drive off the road a little to get a better look,” she recounted. She got closer and saw an owl that seemed to have gotten entangled on a barb on the fence. To Hoefer, the owl looked very tired and scared, and she spoke gently to it as she approached. 

She saw that the owl’s wing was wrapped somehow on the fence, and she initially thought she might be able to free the owl herself. However, when she considered how she’d hold the owl without being struck by its talons, she reconsidered. 

Hoefer used her radio to notify her colleague Officer Brittny Stanley of the situation. While she waited for Stanley, Hoefer grabbed a snake pole and a towel from their nearby office. 

These items are unique to the Bastrop location in that the rural campus is abundant with wildlife. Over the years, Hoefer said, she had used the pole to remove a snake found in a warehouse. Notably, the detachment team has also helped a lost donkey and stray livestock. 

In this instance, the snake pole proved to be little help. 

With time running short, Hoefer rushed to intercept an animal technician whose shift was ending. The Bastrop campus provides veterinary services supporting MD Anderson research programs, and as such, the animal technician was able to provide two sets of long leather gloves specifically intended for handling wild animals.  

Arriving at the scene around 3:30 a.m., Stanley joined Hoefer in assessing the situation. The exhausted owl had been clinging to the wire, its legs shaking, and was unable to free itself. It was evident that the owl had been trapped for an extended period, displaying signs of extreme fatigue. 

With Stanley aiming her patrol vehicle’s lights towards the fencing, they discussed the best solution for freeing the owl, and considered the possibility that the owl would need to be taken to a local wildlife center. Then, they took action. 

Stanley, donning the gloves, carefully approached the owl. The frightened creature hissed and grabbed onto the gloves with its talons, but Stanley managed to lift it, struggling to untangle its wing from the barb. After several attempts, she changed her approach, pushing the owl back and spinning it around the wire, which finally freed the trapped wing. 

Gently placing the owl on the grass, Stanley prepared to evaluate its condition before releasing it. To their delight, as soon as the owl let go of the gloves, it spread its wings and effortlessly took flight. 

Stanley expressed gratitude for Hoefer's attention to detail and resourcefulness during the rescue. 

Photos were later used to learn that they had freed a Great Horned Owl, a common owl across North America. They hunt mammals and birds, including rats, mice, rabbits, ducks, hawks, snakes, and skunks. Despite their impressive hunting skills and fierce demeanor, Great Horned Owls, like the one rescued at the Bastrop campus, can find themselves in vulnerable situations. 

Encounters with man-made structures, such as fences or power lines, can lead to accidental entanglement and pose a significant threat to their well-being. In such cases, the intervention of caring individuals, like Stanley and Hoefer, can make a crucial difference in saving their lives. 

Owls are beautiful birds and I’m happy we were able to rescue it,” Hoefer said.

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