Posted on 16 December 2014.
After a couple of days of hearing fluttering in his chimney, a Silverdale homeowner reached through the fireplace’s flue with his camera and took a shot. What he saw was a shock. Looking directly at the camera was a curious, round-eyed, stressed, and very sooty Barred Owl.
The homeowner called West Sound Wildlife Shelter (WSWS) on Bainbridge Island to ask for help. WSWS Operations Manager Lynne Weber agreed to assist with the unusual situation.
According to Weber, the original curved brick fireplace in the 1930s home was about 4.5′ by 4.5′, with a 50-foot-tall chimney about 18″ by 18″ wide inside. The top of the fireplace and bottom of the chimney were sealed with brick except for a 4-inch-wide flue slit opening.
The owl had apparently toppled down the chimney, unable to extend its wings to fly up and out. Weber guessed it had been pursuing a mouse when it fell down the chimney shaft.
The man said he had just sold the house and did not want to remove bricks to extract the raptor through the side of the chimney. And so it went that he and Weber were faced with removing the owl through the 4-inch wide flue.
Sound impossible? That’s what I thought, the challenge even greater because of the fact that the interior of the chimney had recessed areas that the bird was retreating into when Weber reached through the 4-inch gap to attempt to pull her out.
Weber said being “a stupid human,” after a few hours she finally figured out to block the recessed areas inside the chimney shaft by stuffing towels into them and thereby pushing the bird forward into reach. The problem with that plan, however, was that Weber couldn’t feel the difference between soft towels and the soft-feathered bird. So, painstakingly, inside the sooty fireplace with her body facing down and her arm extended up, Weber removed the towels from the recessed areas and replaced them with small logs.
“Finally she was forced forward,” Weber said about the owl. Once again Weber and the homeowner used a camera to track her position, with help from her “clacking.” When they could see, feel, and hear that she was within reach, they extended a “utensil fabricated with bamboo sticks and netting.” Weber said the idea was to get the owl’s feet tangled into the netting and then pull her down, which is exactly what happened. The man held the bird’s feet, Weber tucked her wings safely into her body, and they delicately pulled her down through the slit. It helped that the bird was a smaller hatchling, born last spring.
Weber, whose dedication to wildlife is a lifelong passion and whose sense of humor is a pleasure for this reporter, said of the young raptor, with classic understatement, “After what we went through, we don’t like each other.”
Back at WSWS, the staff evaluated the extremely sooty bird. Luckily she was uninjured, but soot had penetrated her nares (nostrils), mouth, eyes, and beak. They removed what soot they could and then placed her in a warm indoor enclosure for some rest. The next day they moved her to the Shelter’s flight cage, a large state-of-the-art area where recovering raptors can practice flying and catching prey. Staff provided water for the young owl to groom herself, which took several days of work and frequently replenished bath water.
After nearly a week, the juvenile owl was ready for release. WSWS staff banded and released her into her territory on December 6.
Weber advises all homeowners with chimneys to cap them to prevent problems with wildlife.
Donate to West Sound Wildlife Shelter. Contact them at 206-855-9057.
Photo courtesy of Dottie Tison.