WHEN I picture an owl, I imagine a fluffy nocturnal bird with large inquisitive eyes, hooting away on a large tree somewhere. You could imagine my surprise to see an owl on my driveway as I returned home last week.
Excitement filled me. I have never been up close and personal with an owl before. Plus, I grew up with Harry Potter books, where owls were companion animals that also delivered everything – letters, parcels and even broomsticks.
But alas, there were no mail or parcels for me. I think the postman does a good job at that.
Instead, the owl was just standing on the ground, unmoving, in broad daylight. As I carefully approached it, it shied away from me. It tried to fly but couldn’t.
The poor bird was hurt and stranded under the hot bright sun, all alone. The owl looked absolutely terrified! But I couldn’t just leave it there. A hurt owl could be attacked by dogs or cats, and it might not survive.
So I decided to bring it inside my house. My boyfriend and I cornered the owl, and I used a rag to carefully pick it up. Thankfully, the owl let me hold it and bring it safely inside. It almost seemed paralysed with fear, the poor thing.
I was still wary of it, and you could understand why if you saw its sharp beak and talons.
I transferred the wide-eyed owl to a box, but I had no idea what to do next. I did not know how to care for an injured bird, let alone a raptor.
I didn’t think a normal veterinary clinic would be able to treat birds of prey. So I called up a friend of mine who is a bird lover and rescuer and asked for his advice.
He suggested I contact Dr Jalila at Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) who specialises in avian veterinary medicine.
Unfortunately, it was already late afternoon, and she was not at the veterinary clinic. I was told to call back in the morning. So there I was, left to care for an owl for the rest of the day.
I found myself at a loss, and I realised that I did not know much about owls. Turns out, most of them eat rodents like mice, small rabbits and guinea pigs, and small chicken.
However, the owl I had with me was on the small side, so I doubted that it would be able to take down a small chicken, but you never know. Either way, I didn’t have access to any of those potential foods for the owl.
Unsurprisingly, it didn’t think much of the pieces of bread I offered it. So later in the evening, my brother managed to catch a lizard for it (I don’t know how!). But the owl wasn’t keen on that too. Oh well, we tried.
Because of its injured wing, we didn’t think there was any risk of the owl wreaking havoc in the room by flying around. But it did manage to jump out of the box. So we had to cover the box with some wire mesh.
It was certainly an exciting experience taking care of an owl. But it never crossed my mind that I should keep it as a pet. In fact, it only established the point that owls do not make good pets.
The idea of keeping an owl as a pet took off after the Harry Potter books and movies were released. Fans fantasised about having their very own Hedwig, which was Harry Potter’s snowy owl. But many were not aware that you cannot typically keep owls the way wizards did in J.K. Rowling’s wizarding universe.
For starters, owls cannot be kept inside a standard indoor parrot cage. Instead, they must be kept in a large aviary and have access to a bath pan.
Apparently, owls bathe regularly to keep their feathers squeaky clean. Owls fly silently, but their feathers will make noise if they are not kept clean. The noise will be detrimental to their hunting.
As I experienced myself, owls are carnivorous creatures and would not recognise bird seeds, pellets, bread, fruits or vegetables as food.
They eat rodents live, so you would have to go about sourcing for their meals, and you could only imagine the clean-up that you will be left with. Apparently, owls are messy eaters.
Owls are also considered antisocial birds; they do not live in flocks. The flock mentality is what allows a parrot to successfully integrate itself into a human family.
But since owls lack that trait, they view everyone, except for the one they choose as their “mate”, as an enemy or prey. They would likely attack others on sight. Something I am thankful did not happen to me or my family.
They are also destructive creatures that can easily rip apart anything in their enclosures.
It is also illegal to keep an owl as a pet without a special permit from the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (Perhilitan). That is why I was relieved to hand over custody of the owl to the trusty doctors at UPM.
After the drive to Serdang with a scared owl in a box that was seatbelted, I finally gave the owl the proper veterinary care it needed.
According to the doctor that met with me, it is not uncommon to find owls in urban neighbourhoods. As long as there’s food, they will stay there. He also suspected that the owl could have been knocked down by a car, as it had an injury to its wing and eye.
I checked in a few days ago, and they said the owl was recovering well and would hopefully be released soon.
UPM works closely with Perhilitan, and rehabilitates any exotic animals it receives from the public before releasing them into the wild.
The university said it had received several owls from the public, mostly trauma and accident cases, and some juveniles.
I am so thankful that there is a place the public can go to to send the hurt exotic animals they come across.
Overall, rescuing an owl has been an educational and magical experience. Plus, it’s absolutely thrilling for a muggle (non-magical humans) like me to have my little Harry Potter fantasy come true, however fleeting it may be.
Online reporter Victoria Brown’s Behind The Cage tackles the pressing issues of animal rights and environmental awareness.