British Columbia

'It was just beautiful': Kelowna family that saved owl watches as it's released back into the wild

A Kelowna family watched on Wednesday as a great horned owl it helped rescue three months ago was released back into the wild after its rehabilitation at the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls SORCO Raptor Rehab Centre.
A female great horned owl is released back into Kelowna's Woodhaven Regional Park on Wednesday after it spent three months rehabilitating at the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls (SORCO) Raptor Rehab Centre. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

It started with a commotion in Norm and May McFarland's yard in Kelowna's Mission neighbourhood one morning in February.

The McFarlands noticed about half a dozen crows dive bombing at something in the backyard.

"I walked outside and I thought it was a raccoon but was actually an owl," said daughter Tracey MacInnis. "I thought it was massive, but apparently it wasn't. It was malnourished and needed a lot of hydration."

Norm scared off the crows and kept the birds away as the owl sat on a ledge near their covered swimming pool.

"It was very confused and hardly could turn its head," he said. "We didn't know if it was a wing or a broken leg."

Three months later, the McFarland family stood together among the towering Ponderosa Pine trees in Kelowna's Woodhaven Regional Park as members of the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for Owls (SORCO) Raptor Rehab Centre opened a small crate and released the great horned owl back into the wild.

"It was really nice to see. It just went flying really nicely up through the trees," said May moments after the owl left the cage and flew off into the forest. 

The owl, an adult female named Eve was lethargic and dehydrated, weighing only 700 grams when it arrived at the bird rehabilitation centre — much lighter than its idea weight of 1.1 kilograms, said SORCO manager Dale Belvedere.

"We don't know why she was so underweight, although there was a huge snow impact this year. She might have been having trouble finding her prey," Belvedere said.

The McFarland family walk with members of the SORCO Raptor Rehab Centre through Woodhaven Regional Park to release the rehabilitated owl on Wednesday. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

Eve was rehydrated for five days and then fed a daily diet of one rat and one chick, until she regained weight.

She is one of about 150 injured or orphaned birds of prey SORCO rehabilitates each year at its centre in Oliver, B.C. 

Belvedere said owls mate for life and she hopes this female will be able to find her mate now that she has been released into the park, very near where she was found at the McFarlands' home.

"It was so picturesque and gorgeous to watch this owl fly with its wingspan though the trees, said Tracey. "It was just beautiful."

SORCO staff hope the rehabilitated female great horned owl will find its mate and breed again next spring. (Ray Putnam / SORCO Raptor Rehab Centre)

About the Author

Brady Strachan

CBC Reporter

Brady Strachan is a CBC reporter based in Kelowna, B.C. Besides Kelowna, Strachan has covered stories for CBC News in Winnipeg, Brandon, Vancouver and internationally. Follow his tweets @BradyStrachan