Critters on the Run – the Injured Owl

12/29/2016 - 18:37

By Scott Ludwig

owl.jpgI’ve had a lot of interesting encounters with wildlife during my runs over the years. I’ve been chased by foxes, coyotes, dogs, a raccoon and a couple of baby basset hounds. I’ve run side-by-side with dogs, deer, possums, cows, horses, squirrels, rabbits, armadillos and that one time with a skunk (fortunately I escaped his wrath, if you know what I mean).

Although occasionally lending a bit more excitement to my run than I would have liked, they’ve all turned out well if you don’t count that one time I was bitten on the elbow by a German shepherd.

What haven’t turned out well are the runs during which I encounter a hurt animal. Animals in distress moments after being struck by a car; mostly deer, but occasionally a dog or a cat cause me to look for the nearest phone so I can make an emergency call to get the poor animal some help (this usually occurs in the wee hours of the morning so my options are somewhat limited). I’m reluctant to return to ‘the scene of the crime’ because in my mind once I made the call the animal was rescued, nursed back to health and lived happily ever after.

But a recent Saturday was a first for me. Running with Valerie and Antonio, we saw something in our path that appeared to be a pile of leaves. As we got closer we realized it was a small owl, sitting ever-so-still in the hopes that the three humans wouldn’t notice the tiny creature minding its own business in the middle of the road.

What the owl didn’t realize was that he was a sitting duck for oncoming traffic. I reached down to pick him up — only after Valerie assured me its bite wouldn’t hurt — and cupped the owl in my hands when it suddenly started making a clacking sound before clawing violently to escape my grasp. It didn’t take long for the razor-sharp claws to convince me to let go of it (Valerie failed to warn me about that when she mentioned its bite not hurting). The owl headed into the woods, its right wing flapping in such an odd manner that it was easy for us to tell it was broken. I chased after it into the woods, wondering what I was going to do if I caught up to it.

I spotted the owl and remembered Antonio was wearing a pair of gloves. I asked to borrow them and he balled them up and threw them to me. I put them on, approached the owl, bent over and picked it up. The owl made a clacking sound before clawing me once more as I carried it back to the road. I noticed its left eye was as wide as a saucer, but there was something about the right eye that didn’t look right.

So here we were with a wounded, obviously frightened owl in hand in the middle of the road almost four miles from my house. Here’s what we did next: We ran.

With the tiny owl gently cupped in my two hands, I ran as fast as I was capable of running with my hands completely stable so as not to disturb the owl. For the next 45 minutes the owl mostly slept as we ran, partially because I was rubbing the back of its neck with my right thumb but in all probability more a result of whatever trauma it had experienced earlier resulting in it sitting in the middle of the road with an injured right wing. The two or three times the owl woke up it made its distinctive clacking sound, my cue to get ready for another round of palm-shredding.

Once I got to my house Antonio opened the door and asked Cindy to come out to the garage to see what I ‘brought her.’ Figuring it was a stray dog or a lizard (she’s deathly afraid of the latter) she was reluctant at first, but when she saw a pair of big brown eyes staring up at her she — like Valerie, Antonio and I before her — was mesmerized. My grandson, Krischan, was next in the reception line, immediately followed by Cindy’s brother, Robert, and his wife, Mary Lane. We put some straw and a bowl of water in a plastic tote for the owl to rest while we figured out what to do next. The owl instantly fell back asleep. In my mind I knew it to be a sleep of contentment; content in knowing that this group of people was doing everything they could to help.

Cindy went inside the house and got on the internet to see what we could do for our brown-eyed guest. She contacted the Cochran Mill Nature Center who in turn asked if we could bring the owl to them; if so they could arrange for someone from the Auburn Veterinary College to pick it up and transport it back to receive whatever treatment they deemed necessary. We were on our way in a matter of minutes, the owl still asleep in the tote that was now in the back of Robert’s SUV.

Once we got to the Nature Center we took the owl inside and were a little bit nervous when we checked inside the tote and both eyes were closed and there wasn’t the slightest indication it was breathing. But once the director of the Nature Center picked the owl up and it started making that distinctive clacking sound, we all felt a sense of relief. Over the next 30 minutes we learned a few things about our new feathered friend:

· He was a male screech-owl.

· He was fully grown.

· He was a bird of prey, meaning he had keen vision that allowed him to detect prey during flight (not to mention his powerful talons and beak).

And finally, the one that explains the talon marks on my left hand:

· The clacking sound was the owl’s way of saying bad things are about to happen.

It didn’t take long for Krischan to name the owl ‘Screech.’ The Director was almost as quick to place a call to the Auburn Veterinary College: Someone was on their way to take Screech back to Alabama to see if they would be able to help. All of us felt a sense of relief as we said our goodbyes to the only owl any of us ever had the pleasure of holding in our hands; relief that Screech would be nursed back to health and live happily ever after.

I called the Auburn Veterinary College two days after we discovered Screech. It broke my heart to hear that Screech had a fractured right wing and was blind in his right eye and for those reasons had to be euthanized shortly after arrival. Their best guess was that he had been hit by a car while in flight, which helped explain why we found him in the middle of the road on a cool fall morning.

As I think about Screech’s last day on earth I take comfort in knowing that he lived the final hours of his life surrounded by people that truly cared about him. Forgive the pun, but people who simply gave a hoot.

People who shed a tear when they learned Screech was gone.

As for my grandson, I won’t tell him what happened to Screech. I want him to believe Screech was nursed back to health and lived happily ever after.

Like all of the injured animals I saved with an emergency phone call over the years.

(Scott Ludwig is president and founder of Darkside Running Club (.com). He lives in the Atlanta area and is the author of 11 books — 7 about running — and is working on others. Scott’s book “Running to Extremes: The Legendary Athletes of Ultra Running” is now available. It features stories on Ray Zahab, Dean Karnazes, Larry Macon, Mark Covert, Ed Ettinghausen, Mike Morton, Tim Twietmeyer, Ann Treason and seven other amazing athletes of long distance running. You can find it on Amazon and most major booksellers. The book is inspired by, and dedicated to, the enduring memory and legacy of Ted Corbitt. Scott can be reached at He also has a blog at where his books are available — or at any major online bookstore. This column appears in the January issue of Running Journal at www.Running.Net.)

Copyright © 2018 Running Journal