I was driving home Thursday night on SR-80 after having Thanksgiving dinner in Delray Beach. State Road 80 runs parallel to Alligator Alley just north of the Everglades and just South of Lake Okeechobee. It's mostly sugar cane fields and cow pastures with a few small towns dotting the landscape, so at night, the cars are few and far between. Half way across the state, I was switching between listening to the Thanksgiving Day football game on AM radio and Laura Schlessinger railing against an ecologist who was suggesting that humans have reached their "carrying capacity" on the planet. Laura takes the "conserve it so you can shoot it" approach to wildlife conservation.
On a dark section of road I noticed a pair of red eyes glowing just off the shoulder and caught a glimpse of a Bobcat darting into a field. When I looked back to the road I noticed what I assume the cat was after - a Barn Owl - injured and flailing in the road. As I pulled over and put my hazards on, a truck whipped past and barely missed the bird, spinning the ghost-faced owl back towards the roadside. The bird stretched the injured wing and clapped its bill as a warning. I herded it completely off the road and tried to flag another motorist for help. The "Grosbeak Incident" of '05 left me humbled and respectful when handling birds. So when no one would stop (and who would stop for a bald stranger in the middle of the night out here?) I grabbed my cell - 1 bar -but called information to get a number for someone who might help.
"I'm not sure - I think Hendry?"
"You're not sure?
They gave me a the number for the State Fish and Wildlife Department
"Where are you located?"
"We don't handle that county"
They gave me the number for West Palm Beach - 50 miles to my east
"What's your emergency"
"I have an injured bird"
"so there's no emergency?"
"Well to the bird there is"
"What kind of bird?"
"It's a Barn Owl"
"We only handle endangered wildlife or game species and that bird is neither"
"So what do I do?"
"Call a rehaber"
She didn't have a number for a rehaber - nor did she seem to care. Had I told her I was going to kick the bird in the face she might have offered kudos for such a suggestion. Laura Schlessinger would have approved.
By the time I got off the phone, the bird had disappeared into the brush. I'd like to think that it was feigning injury while shaking the "cobwebs" off from an impact from a car before it flew away. It happens. But I still felt like I had not done enough. That bird looked at me with fear. It wanted to live but had the misfortune of swooping into traffic. Some would say that humans are part of nature and this is just nature taking it's course. The bobcat might have had a feast and it's "just a barn owl". But why do we treat humans differently? We would never leave a human to a bobcat. Laura Schlessinger stated on her show that we are humans and they are animals. But if we use the "we are part of nature" argument - then we are animals too.
I guess if I deem this a bird emergency there were probably a hell of a lot of Turkeys that had emergencies of their own recently.
I just don't want to think there is a Barn Owl sitting on the side of the road with a broken wing thinking "Thanks for nothing".