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Sunday, May 21, 2017

Animal Rescue XXII: (Yet another) Pacific Screech-Owl

When we receive a wild animal to rescue at Estacion Biologica Laguna de Apoyo, we can not always predict what will happen. Sometimes, the animals are injured so badly that little can be done, beyond securing a peaceful hospice for its last hours of life. But, sometimes, animals with injuries may recover, even when their injuries may have appeared gruesome or grave, initially. The owl brought to us last week is another surprise of this sort, with an unexpectedly happy ending.

Perhaps the most common of the owls in the inhabited portion of the Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is the Pacific Screech-Owl (Megascops cooperi). Its range is limited to the dry tropical forest habitats, farmlands and even residential areas, near the Pacific coast from the Isthmus of Tihuantepec to northwestern Costa Rica.

This species is called corococa locally, in homage to its lively call, which is often answered in kind among the members of a social group. It consumes mostly arthropods, although it is thought to take small rodents, as well. A biological control over some potential nuisances may be managed by its presence, making it a beneficial species to have nearby. Nonetheless, local people often kill any wildlife within view, especially when associated with negative myths, as are owls in the Nicaraguan culture.

Although the Pacific Screech-Owl is not active during the daytime, it often roosts in plain view, on low branches of trees, where its camouflage may keep it unnoticed by humans and other fauna. Nonetheless, if seen, it is likely that Nicaraguans, full of myths about owls and generally hostile to any wild animals within view, will attack an owl with intent to harm. In fact, the Pacific Screech-Owl is among the more commonly received bird species by us at GAIA. The subject of this report, brought to us just a couple of weeks ago in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, was an injured fledgling.

Megascops cooperi
Juvenile Pacific Screech-Owl, rescued in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo Jeffrey McCrary. 
This young owl, surely having been flying only days of its life, was found by neighbors, Claudio Arnaudo and Jimmy, who work at a nearby hotel in Laguna de Apoyo. The poor bird was plagued with lesions of different kinds. One eye had swollen shut from trauma. Another lesion, possibly caused in a fall, was evident beneath the beak. A wing was bruised and missing about ten of its flight feathers. As owls tend to be, the little animal was hostile to all who approached. Its injuries impeded flying, however, so there was little it could do, beyond menacing looks and tight grips with the sharp talons, against those who bothered it.

Pacific Screech-Owl
The Pacific Screech-Owl perched on a wall at Estacion Biologica, Laguna de Apoyo, Photo Pablo Somarriba.
After several days, during which it refused all food offered, we thought that the poor owl would soon be dead. Yet, it maintained strength. Then, one evening, we noticed that the owl was communicating with the local, wild owls. Small peeps were emanating from the cage, in evident response to the characteristic calls from the trees.

The wing, still missing half its flight feathers, had nonetheless recovered mobility and some of its strength. We left the owl out of its cage to see what would happen. After a few false starts, the owl was gone.

The following dawn, however, the owl appeared once again, at the same place where it was left free. Its adventure over, it had returned to familiar, if confined, surroundings. This time, the owl was placed back into the cage, but with the cage door maintained open, in case it developed an urge to go back to the wild.

The next evening, owls were heard and spotted nearby. The fledgling owl was once again taken out and placed outside the cage, and this time, we watched as the other owls flew in. The injured owl had friends, this was clear, and this time, it took flight and left with them, not to return. One more wild bird in the forests of Nicaragua, mission accomplished.

In the following video, the fledgling owl is approached by another owl. Whether the owl was fed or simply visited, what is clear is that a firm association was developed.

The story of this fledgling owl, adopted by the local owl-family, was unexpected. Furthermore, we are left to wonder if, indeed, the owl had been getting fed by the local owls through the bars of the cage, all along. That possibility would explain why the health of the owl improved, even though it seemingly was not eating. Regardless, we are glad that the owl could enjoy another day as a free animal, to live and die in the forest instead of in a cage. One more animal that was a victim to the aggression of senseless people was saved and returned to the wild. This owl, given another chance at life in the wild, is free in its natural environment, thanks to the attentiveness and kindness of Claudio and Jimmy. Wild animal rescue, sometimes, can be very gratifying.

We at GAIA are working to make Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, and other places in Nicaragua, friendly habitats for wild nature. You can help us to reduce human-wildlife conflicts, provide environmental education, and conduct scientific research on topics of importance to the environment in Nicaragua. Please join us by sending a contribution or volunteering.

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