Hoot Hoot, Hooray: An Owl-some Rescue!

  • Published
  • By Mr. Ryan White
  • 124th Fighter Wing

At approximately 1 p.m., Thursday, Mar. 3, 2022, an injured great horned owl was discovered on Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho.

Ms. Danicza Lopez, an environmental engineer with the 124th Civil Engineer Squadron, was leaving a meeting in building 415 when she was told about the wounded bird nearby. She recalled seeing people gathered outside, near her office window, earlier in the day and decided she should go investigate. Behind a bush, not far from her window, she found the injured great horned owl.

Lopez immediately started making phone calls to animal conservation offices and connected with the director of the Ruth Melichar Bird Center in Boise. They agreed to take the owl and rehabilitate it until it could return to the wild. However, they were already closed for the evening. Lopez was asked to capture and secure the owl overnight so it could be transferred to the bird center in the morning. She knew it wouldn’t be safe to do alone, so she recruited Staff Sgt. Jake Wirtanen, a power production technician with the 124th CES, to help her out.

“The owl was huge–the size of my torso!” said Wirtanen. “Its eyes were piercing yellow, just staring you down the whole time.”

Wirtanen recalled thinking his leather welding gloves might not be enough protection. It was a much larger owl than he’d expected.

Great horned owls are large birds. They can weigh up to 5.5-pounds, stand up to 2-feet tall and have a wingspan of 3-5 feet. They are native to Idaho and federally protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act. These owls are also known for their razor-sharp talons.

“Once we went out there to try and put the owl in the box, that’s where the fun started,” said Lopez, “because it freaked out on us and they have huge talons. It’s a little frightening when you have this giant great horned owl come at you.”

They were able to safely get the bird into a box, poke holes into it for ventilation, and transport it to Lopez’s office to stay overnight. She was warned by the bird center that they tend to be escape artists, so Lopez was very happy to find the owl exactly where she left it the next morning, unharmed. It was then transported to the bird center for care.

Lopez says it’s fairly uncommon to have a large animal rescue on Gowen Field, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an important part of her job.

“We knew we had a responsibility to keep this animal safe,” said Lopez. “Their habitats are being impacted and reduced; a lot of them are being driven to extinction. Obviously, our actions aren’t major enough to turn any of that around, but at least we were able to help a little bit with one of them. It’s a good feeling, knowing we did something for this poor, helpless animal.”