A great horned owl is back in flight after colliding with a pick-up truck on a Camrose highway, and being left for dead inside its shattered grille.

The bird's ill-fated flight began before daybreak on Tuesday.

Jennifer Thomas, a teacher at École Camrose Composite High School, was driving to work when she heard a sickening thud.

"I was going fast, like high speed, so I did hit it pretty hard," Thomas said.

Owl Camrose

This great horned owl was hit by a truck near Camrose and managed to survive hours embedded in a frigid grille before being rescued. (Fish and Wildlife Enforcement)

She pulled over and stepped out into the – 35 C cold to see something poking out from inside the ice-covered front of her truck.

It was the mottled feathers of a great horned owl. The impact of the collision had pushed the bird inside her honeycomb grille. 

"I got out and had a look, and its wing was sticking out the grille. So it had broken through the grille and was inside my car. But I assumed it was dead."

Dreading the thought of trying to pry the owl out herself, Thomas carried on to work and parked her truck in the school parking lot, with the bird still embedded in the grille.

At lunch, Thomas — who teaches Grade 10 and 11 English social studies, food, and sewing classes — approached the school's shop teacher for some help extracting the carcass from her vehicle.

But when she went out to the parking lot to move her vehicle into the school's garage bay, she made a panicked realization.

The owl wasn't ready to be roadkill.

"Instead of the wing sticking out, its face was sticking out the grille at me, looking at me and blinking its eyes," she said.

"And I realized that it was not dead."

That's when District Fish and Wildlife Officer Lorne Rinkel got a call.

By the time Rinkel arrived at the school, a rescue effort was underway. The truck had been pulled into the school garage and several handy students were waiting to help with the owl extraction.

They decided to use a reciprocating saw to carefully cut into the plastic grille and get the bird out. 

"I was with the right group of people.They had all the right equipment and tools," Rinkel said.

"I had some welders' gloves on, thick leather, and I was able to reach in and wrap my hands around the owl's wings and compress them against its body so it couldn't flap and flutter.

"It was remarkably simple." 

'Some sort of fairy tale ending'

To everyone's surprise, the owl was still strong and feisty, flapping its wings and using its beak on its would-be rescuer.

"The owl just came right out and I could tell its wings were perfectly in order, and its legs were working well," Rinkel said.

There was a small amount of blood on the owl's left leg but other than that it appeared to be remarkably healthy.

"Its talons were gripping and releasing, much to the surprise of all the students."

As a precaution, Rinkel placed the owl in a large cardboard box and brought it back to his office for observation.

Rescuing the bird was a total hoot for Rinkel, who said rescue calls often come too late for injured wildlife.

"It's always a great distraction from the normal routine, but it was nice to see something like that because all too often we're involved with euthanizing injured animals roadside," he said. 

"So this was a great surprise." 

Twelve hours later, after some rest in the quiet warmth of the Fish and Wildlife building, Rinkel decided the ornery bird was ready to be back in the wild.

He placed the box outside and gently opened the flap. 

"It was a cold, full-moon evening and the owl just popped out, hopped out of the box, surveyed its surroundings and it just took off," Rinkel said. 

"And it was quite neat, because there was a full moon and the owl just flew off directly into the moon and it was some sort of fairy tale ending.

"It was quite amazing."

Camrose owl rescue

Fish and Wildlife officer Lorne Rinkel and poses with his feathered friend. (Fish and Wildlife enforcement)

 

With files from Ariel Fournier