A barn owl with a broken wing has been successfully released into the wild after being nursed back to health by a Cumbrian vet.
The owl – named Bernadette by staff at Paragon Vets in Dalston – was probably hit by a lorry or car after taking the slightly unwise decision to hunt for prey around the A66 near Penrith.
She was found by a farmer in a nearby field in a hypothermic state after lying for perhaps two nights in a state of shock, drenched by rain.
But after nearly six weeks of building up her strength while a splint fashioned from lollipop sticks held her broken bones in place, Bernadette is now back out in the wild, no doubt terrorising small mammals in a new hunting ground near the Solway.
Vet Anne Abbs normally deals with avian cases at Paragon which usually equates to a few hens and maybe the odd parrot or budgie, but as a keen ornithologist, she was delighted to oversee Bernadette’s recovery.
“A farmer saw what he initially thought was a plastic bag down near the A66 and when he realised that it was an owl he picked her up and brought her in a box to our Newbiggin practice.
“She was in an absolute state, pretty thin and shocked. She had broken the lower part of her right wing and with two bones displaced she must have been in a lot of pain – If been higher up would have to have been put to sleep,” she said.
Bernadette was taken to Dalston where she was given pain relief, put on a drip to replace lost fluids and an x-ray confirmed the broken bones and help plan how they could be fixed. Her broken bones were then pinned and a frame to keep them in place was created from wire and lollipop sticks.
As a wild bird, Bernadette showed no gratitude to her saviours and turned her beak up at the dead mice provided for her, not recognising them as prey because they were white. So Anne had to force feed her to ensure the owl gained enough weight and took her home for some weekends so she could carry on feeding the owl.
It was on one of these trips that Anne discovered that Bernadette had recovered her ability to fly.
“It was a Sunday morning and I came downstairs and opened the box and there was no owl. I searched around the house at ground level and then my husband pointed to the top of the Welsh dresser where Bernadette had flown, taking her place among my ornaments which do, in fact, include a ceramic barn owl,” she said.
Back at the surgery, Bernadette was given further exercise to build up her strength including a test flight around the reception area.
She has now been successfully released into the wild thanks to a sympathetic landowner on the Solway who had a vacant barn owl box which Bernadette has made her new home.
Anne, who has been a vet with Paragon for 32 years, said: “Bernadette has been seen hunting which is very satisfying.
“I’m very interested in birds and a keen birdwatcher. I enjoy dealing with our avian patients which are mostly chickens with some parrots and budgies, but it was rewarding to do something that was both technically challenging and helping conserve a species that is having problems.”