'Owl roadkill season': Another great horned owl hits truck, survives

Adam Marton was speeding down a dark Saskatchewan highway when a massive feathered creature swept into the glow of his headlights and made a sickening thud.

'I just never thought [those] birds would be that tough'

Stunned from the force of the impact, this great horned owl sat stunned on the side of a Saskatchewan highway before, once again, taking flight. (Adam Marton)

Adam Marton was speeding down a dark Saskatchewan highway when a massive feathered creature swept into the glow of his headlights and made a sickening thud.

His Chevy Silverado had made a direct impact with a bird, but Marton, a mechanical planner, kept driving. He was nearly 500 kilometres from his home in Sherwood Park, Alta. and had a long drive ahead.

"We were driving and it was dark and I was going about 125 km/h.  I probably shouldn't have been speeding but this bird flew right out of the ditch right into my grille," Marton said.

"And I thought I had lost it so I was driving for a while and oncoming traffic were flashing their lights at me."

Marton pulled over to inspect the damage and discovered two massive wings wrapped haphazardly across his hood.

A great horned owl was lodged in the grille of his truck.

Unenthused about the prospect of making the rest of his 4 1/2-hour journey with a dead bird as a hood ornament, Marton got to work dislodging the creature from the shattered remains of his grille.

'It just followed me with its eyes' 

"I grabbed the wings and kind of pulled it out," Marton said.

"I thought it would come out nice and easy but the thing was right in there and I had to use a bit of force to get this bird out."
Adam Marton drove for a few kilometres before realizing an owl was lodged in his front bumper. (Adam Marton)
Stunned from the force of the impact, the bird remained still as Marton pried it out and laid it on the shoulder before climbing back into the cab of his truck to call for help.

"I put it on the ground and noticed it was still breathing and then it just followed me with its eyes," he said.

"It turned its head and everywhere I went, it looked."

Calls to the local conservation office went straight to the answering machine, and Marton was at a loss about how to help. That's when the bewildered bird regained consciousness.

'I never thought the thing would live' 

"I asked it if it wanted to come in the truck, come in the box,' Marton said. "And then it kind of looked at me, shook itself off, hopped into the ditch and then took off.

"I was thinking that I had an owl to put over my fireplace," Marton said jokingly.

"I mean, that's pretty sweet. Who has a stuffed owl? I never thought the thing would live."

Marton thought his owl encounter was an anomaly until he heard about another owl-truck collision.

Last week in Camrose, an owl was struck on the highway and survived for hours embedded in the frigid grille of a truck before being rescued.

Jennifer Thomas, a teacher at École Camrose Composite High School, was driving to work when she hit the bird, but assuming it was was dead, continued on her commute. 

Eventually, the bird was rescued from its honeycomb prison with the gentle hand of a conservation officer, and a reciprocating saw.
After spending a few minutes dazed on the side of the road, the owl shook off, hopped into the ditch and flew into the night. (Adam Marton)
 It was released into the wild later that evening.

"I've heard of people hitting owls," Marton said. "But I've never heard of them being pulled out of a grille and still live and fly away. I would never have thought that could happen.

"I just never thought [those] birds would be that tough." 

Although the encounters left Marton shaking his head, birdwatchers have reported finding a number of dead owls along Alberta highways in recent days.

'It is a damn shame whenever one of our owls get hit'

The collisions come as no surprise to Chris Fisher, a biologist and Alberta bird expert. Great horned owls are nocturnal creatures, and spend many hours each night perched along power poles, trees or barn roofs, scouting for wandering mice and voles.

"These perches tend to be found alongside our roads which contribute a great risk whenever they take flight," Fisher said.

"Add to this our current snow conditions that make hunting in our ditches attractive, well you have the reason why we've entered our yearly owl roadkill season."

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)
 Fisher said snowy owls and grey owls are also frequently hit by vehicles.

He said drivers can minimize the risk of collisions by scanning the road for any signs of the winged creatures, and take extra precautions if they see one perched nearby.

And if you do happen to hit an owl, Fisher urges people to take the bird to the nearest wildlife rehabilitation facility for medical treatment.

"Since these birds are just struggling to make a living through the freeze and famine — being struck down by a vehicle is just the ultimate insult," Fisher said.

"It is a damn shame whenever one of our owls get hit."


Wallis Snowdon


Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca