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Tucson woman's attempt to rescue injured owl goes wrong

Tucson woman's attempt to rescue injured owl goes wrong

A motorist who attempted to rescue an injured owl north of Tucson ended up with the bird latching its talons onto her arm and the steering wheel, state wildlife officials said.

The woman hit the great horned owl with her car on North Oracle Road late Monday, which left it dazed by the side of the road. The driver stopped and put it in her car, but the owl revived and latched onto her with its talons, according to the Arizona Game and Fish Department.

The woman intended to take the owl to a veterinarian or a wildlife rehabilitation center, said Mark Hart, a Game and Fish spokesman.

After the owl latched onto her, the woman called the department’s 24-hour dispatch line to ask for help, Hart said. The dispatcher spent more than 20 minutes trying to help the woman remove the owl from her car, which included turning the steering wheel to try to disengage the owl’s talons and spraying the owl with water.

Eventually, more aggressively spraying water on the owl coaxed it to hop out of the car, Hart said.

The woman “learned her lesson” and will not be cited by Game and Fish, he said. She was not hurt.

“It’s human nature to render aid to somebody or something that’s hurt,” Hart said. But trying to help a wild animal can be dangerous.

A few years ago, a passer-by tried to help a coyote that was hit by a vehicle, but ended up getting bit by the coyote, Hart said.

Game and Fish also sees people try to help javelinas or fawns, which also can end badly, he said. With fawns, an attempted rescue may just end up separating the fawn from its mother. Game and Fish then has to find a place for the fawn or euthanize it.

Game and Fish’s 24-hour dispatch center can be reached at (623) 236-7201.

In other recent wildlife rescues gone wrong, a couple found a barn owl in the middle of the road in Picture Rocks a few years ago. The man in the passenger seat was holding the barn owl, which has longer talons than a great horned owl. The owl grabbed him by the wrists and wouldn’t let go, said Lou Rae Whitehead, animal care supervisor at the Tucson Wildlife Center.

The man went to the hospital for treatment of his wrists and the owl, which had two broken wings, was euthanized, Whitehead said.

In another case, a woman found an unconscious coyote and put it in her backseat. While she was driving, the coyote woke up and got on top of her in the front seat. The coyote didn’t bite her, but it had to be euthanized, Whitehead said.

Rescues of wildlife by passers-by don’t always end with the animal being euthanized, she said. Last year, a woman rescued an unconscious squirrel by the road and put him in a box. The squirrel woke up and jumped out of the box. Whitehead spent an hour trying to get the squirrel from under the seat of the car.

Whitehead said she keeps the appropriate equipment in her car to help injured wildlife, but most people don’t. In one rescue gone wrong, a passer-by put baby hummingbirds in a box, but the box didn’t have any holes and the birds suffocated, Whitehead said.

She urged passers-by to put their own safety first when rescuing animals.

A man saw a coyote that had been hit by a car late at night near the Pima Air and Space Museum on Tucson’s southeast side. While the man waited for wildlife rescuers to arrive, he stayed in his car in the middle of the road. Another car came up and crashed into the back of his car, which hit the coyote. The coyote ran off into the bushes.

The Tucson Wildlife Center can be reached at 290-9453.

Contact reporter Curt Prendergast at 573-4224 or cprendergast@tucson.com or on Twitter @CurtTucsonStar

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