Calgary

Alberta farmer dive-bombed as he tries to free trapped owlet

A southern Alberta farmer thought he was being a nice guy trying to free an owlet stuck in a platform railing. Then the owlet's mom came calling.

Matt Sawyer lets out a scream as protective mama owl swoops too close

Matt Sawyer ducks as he's dive-bombed by a protective mama owl. (Matt Sawyer)

Before they can fly, baby owls — also known as owlets — like to practise.

That's what Matt Sawyer, a farmer who lives outside Acme, Alta., thought had happened when he discovered an owlet with his head stuck between two pipes of a railing on a machine platform.

"I am assuming it made it to the top of that railing," Sawyer said, "and it ended up slipping and getting its neck stuck all the way down between the two bars."

At first Sawyer thought the owlet was dead, as it was lying on the platform. But as he approached, he could see it was still alive — just frustrated, tired and very stuck.

That's when Sawyer, who was accompanied by friend Ray, got what seemed like a good idea.

"We were actually really quite pleased that the owl was still alive," Sawyer said. "And I said, 'well, we're going to save this guy.'"

They decided to make a video of the rescue.

"We're always trying to video things that go on on the farm," he explained.

Sawyer grabbed some welding gloves, hoping they were talon-proof. He was well aware that owls have sharp claws. He didn't bother putting on a helmet.

"I have a lot of experience with chickens," Sawyer said. "In the old days, I used to pack a lot of broiler birds. I thought for sure (I was OK) — and I know what those talons look like."

Matt Sawyer knew what to expect when he tried to help an owlet while its parents watched but was still startled when the attacks started. (Matt Sawyer)

He could see the owlet's mom nearby, as well as its dad.

He knew owls give you a bit of advance notice before they come calling, too.

"There's one on my left and then there's one behind me," he said. "They give you a few barks, a few clicks — and then they come at you."

That's when owl action happened.

"I'm looking for its parents and it doesn't take very long before I'm looking directly eyeball to eyeball to one of them," he said. 

"I'm fairly high up there (on the platform). So we're looking eyeball to eyeball and she gives me a few barks, and then a few flaps, and she's right there — and that's the first scream."

On the video shot by Ray, Sawyer unleashes a blood-curdling scream — but basically that's because he was anticipating an owl attack and some talons gouging his head.

"The bird's right there and it rocks back and its claws come out," he said. "You know its talons are out there. You know she means business."

After an initial swoop and accompanying scream, Sawyer went to work on setting the owlet free.

"I guess you want to be as calm as you can," he said. 

"It didn't help that I was screaming, but I grabbed the wings (of the owlet)  and tried to make sure that they stayed together, and I didn't want it flapping around anymore."

Sawyer had to stick his hands around two or three different rails, and over the course of sliding the rails up to free the owlet, he was dive-bombed three more times.

When that didn't work, the mama owl dive-bombed Ray the videographer.

The owlet was set free. The mama owl stopped dive-bombing Sawyer and Ray, who decided it was time to go for lunch.

After lunch, they returned to discover the bird family chilling together — until the owls spotted Sawyer.

"The mom or dad owl there was flapping its wings and barking," he said, "and I said, 'well, I'm not going over there again.'

"Maybe that was possibly a signal that I did it," he said. "I'd encouraged the young owlet to jump off (the machinery) and (then) I took a picture of it in the tall grass — and away it went."


With files from The Calgary Eyeopener.

About the Author

Stephen Hunt

Digital Writer

Stephen Hunt is a digital writer at the CBC in Calgary. Email: stephen.hunt@cbc.ca

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