Success Story: Iraqi Owl

In early June 2006, John Mayberry, a civilian working near the Baghdad Airport, contacted AWC for information about caring for a fledgling owl with an injured wing. The bird was a Hutton’s Little Owl (Athene Noctua), a relative of the North American Burrowing Owl. Over the next two months, John Mayberry and then AWC Executive Director Anne Miller (now retired) kept up a fascinating correspondence about the intricacies of providing appropriate care for a fledgling owl in the middle of a war zone. John Mayberry’s deep feelings for the helpless young bird, and his struggles to provide care for it, are eloquently described in this moving story told through this sequence of email messages

From: John Mayberry, Baghdad, Iraq
Sent: Sunday, June 04, 2006 6:34 AM
Hi,
I work near the airport here in Baghdad, Iraq. We recently trapped, inadvertently, a juvenile (we think) owl in a rodent trap. We are not sure of what species it is or what to do with it. It seems to have adopted us, or at least our area. At night he returns to the trap he was caught in and in the morning he exits through the same hole he entered through and sits beside it all day. We don’t know what to feed it or if it will even eat what we offer. I am attaching a photo of the little guy in hopes you may be able to identify him and educate as a little. We do not want it to die but do not know what to do. I have parrots back at home and love birds so I’m getting more attached than most. Any assistance you can offer will be greatly appreciated. I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,
John Mayberry

From: Anne Miller, Birmingham, AL
Sent: Thursday, June 08, 2006 7:58 PM

John
I do hope it’s not too late to help you with your little owl. Judging from the picture, there is a pronounced drooping of the left wing. Young birds heal very rapidly, and if it is broken, it may be too late to treat the fracture. The wing should be folded into a normal position and then secured to the body with Vet Rap. I would not leave the bandage on for more than 7 days.

The bird’s behavior is unfamiliar to me, but your description suggests that it is more active in the daytime than many owls. There is an owl called a Little Owl (Athene noctua) that is found in Iraq that is active in daytime. It looks quite small, and judging from the degree of feather development, it is not going to get much bigger.

The chances are that the bird can utilize insects for most of its diet, along with small reptiles and rodents. The bird is still young enough to need feeding by its parents. If you are feeding it, you need to be sure to offer it a whole animal diet, and not just muscle meat like hamburger. They also need the bones and organs (if you are giving it rodents, say) as well as muscle tissue, to get an adequate amount of calcium. If it is getting a variety of insects, that will help keep the nutritional balance as well. I hope this information does not arrive too late to save the owl. I’d be very much interested to hear from you.

Anne Miller
Executive Director, Alabama Wildlife Center

From: John Mayberry
Sent: Thursday, June 08, 2006 11:50 AM
Ms. Miller
Thank you for answering my email. I’m more than happy to pass along that the little guy is strong and getting friskier by the day. My best friend and his wife are both veterinarians, she specifically being a bird vet. Whatever its species, she also advised much the same diet as you. I immediately mobilized our camp and set a trap line as mice are in no short supply here. We got one the very first night and put it in the crate we have him in. He studied it for a moment then gave it a peck but was too weak to really do anything on his own. We took the mouse out and dressed it, sliced up the muscle and organs and hand fed him. It took a little prompting on our part to get him interested, in fact I think we aggravated him into taking the first bite. Once that happened though, all bets were off. He devoured it all. We have been subsidizing his menu with insects which he seems to enjoy and he is perking up. His feathers are beginning to lose much of the mottled look they had when he first appeared. I have taken a 4 inch piece of curved plumbing pipe and placed that in the crate as well. He scampers in during the night and appears again each morning. Almost everyone in our entire camp has taken to him. We are all pulling for him and our main concern is what will happen to him when we attempt to turn him loose. We worry that he may not be able to fend for himself in his natural environment. We are first hoping to help him heal.

We are aware of the wing droop as well. I have vet wrap here with me. I carry rolls of it for sprains or bandages. I will attempt to wrap his wing in the morning. It is past dusk here and he will have turned in for the night. Thank you for mentioning that. I was worried about so many things I overlooked the obvious. I hope it will mend. He does move it and we have touched it without him showing any signs of distress or pain. He will step up onto our finger when we approach him in the crate and perch there for his feeding. He has allowed me to scratch behind his head, something my Yellow Nape parrot won’t even let me do, and gently rub his chest feathers. He always makes one obligatory, half hearted peck at our fingers but then steps right up like he’s been doing it his whole life. He certainly has a distinct personality. I keep calling it he and of course we have no way of knowing it’s sex but it seems sort of a rough and tumble little character so we think of it as such. In fact, he has been dubbed “Rufus” by the guys here because he’s been through so much and has maintained his attitude. He is much admired and cared for. I am attaching more recent pictures than the one you have. These were taken during his first mouse meal. I will be glad to let you know of our success with him. Thank you again for your reply. Everyone will be glad to hear of it. Wish us luck tomorrow with the bandaging and pray that it is in time to help him. Take care and I’ll be in touch with our progress report.

Sincerely,
John

From: Anne Miller
Sent: Saturday, June 10, 2006 6:42 PM


John
Thanks for letting me know how the owl is doing, and also for sending the photos. It sounds as if the bird is doing well, and you are feeding it a good diet. In the photos you sent it looked very energetic, which is a good sign. If the bird recovers from the wing injury and eventually is able to fly, you should be able to release it when it is grown. You can probably do what we call a “soft release”, where you continue to offer it food as it reaches the age where it is flying free. Young raptors don’t have to be trained to hunt-they instinctively know what to do, but they need to have a reliable source of food while they develop their hunting skills. Once the bird is a skilled hunter, you can taper off the feedings and encourage it to become independent. Please keep us up to date on the bird’s progress.

Anne Miller

From: John Mayberry
Sent: Tuesday, June 13, 2006 11:47 AM
Ms. Miller
I fear we were too long in addressing the wing problem. The droop is still there after six days being wrapped. However; it does not seem to affect him adversely. He can and does fly for short distances and appears to be gaining strength daily. I believe he will increase his distance as his strength builds. He is not a quitter, I’ll give him that. The area we are assigned to is part of Saddam’s old hunting preserve. When we first arrived there was any number of animals running wild. It was not uncommon to see hyenas, jackals, wolves, coyotes or antelope crossing the streets in the early mornings and evenings. There were and still are feral cats here in great numbers. They are known as jungle cats and have little to no fear of humans at this point. An average weight for one of these is approximately 30 pounds while some have reached as much as 50 lbs. They are ravenous in their foraging and I could not stand to think of this guy enduring that fate. He looked as if he had borne enough trouble on his young shoulders already so we have taken him in.

His feathers are coming along quite well. He really appears to be in good health other than the wing situation. I worry more now about him becoming “domesticated” and unable to fend for himself when we leave here. I understand the laws of nature and realize the need for them but it doesn’t make it any easier when I think of what may happen. I suppose it would seem silly to many people for me to worry about a bird dying when there are people dying everyday but I can not help it. I would like to think that at least one underdog had a chance in this place. I often go out to his place during my breaks and just sit with him. I know he is a raptor but he also has personality in abundance and he takes my mind off of all the ugliness for a while. Since the wing is not going to be a factor in his recuperation, do you have a suggested time line for release? I do not have any idea in that area. I can tell he is stronger and gaining more strength daily but is that enough of an indicator to act upon? I do want to give him every chance possible. Also if you think we’re interacting with him too much, let us know if that should be amended as well. I will close for now and await your reply. I do want to thank you for all of the help and advice you have provided to me. It has meant a lot. And if you want to post these emails and pictures, it is fine with me.

Take care.
John

From: Anne Miller
Sent: Thursday, June 15, 2006 11:36 AM
John
I’m so glad to hear from you again. It doesn’t surprise me that the bandaging did not help. Since young bones heal so fast, the fracture site had probably already healed before you applied the bandage. The problem now is that the bone is not in perfect alignment. However, the good news is that young birds seem to be able to recover from fractures to an amazing extent.

You asked me about how to prepare him to live in the wild, and I would like to recommend that you use a modification of a technique that is commonly used for raising young birds of prey called “hacking”. The basic principal is that you create a special nest area-called the hack site—where the young bird stays while it is still too young to fly. (In your case, the area where the young owl is hanging out right now would be the best hack site.) While it is growing, the young bird learns that it can depend on finding food at the hack site every day. Then, as it begins to fly, it starts venturing farther and farther away from the hack site. The young bird will naturally start to try to capture prey. But it will not be able to find enough food to survive without help. It is during this period that the hack site is so important, since you have trained the bird to understand that it can always find food there. Usually, over the period of about a month to six weeks, it will gradually get more and more successful, and it will visit the hack site less often. Because of the wing injury, you will probably need to continue feeding this owl at the hack site longer than a normal bird would need. It usually takes about a week or 10 days for a bird to get accustomed to a hack site, so that it will know that there will always be food there once it starts moving around freely. Since your bird is already starting to fly, you want to keep the hack site at the same location he is already used to, if at all possible.

You are right that he will be in much greater danger if he loses all fear of humans. Especially in such a dangerous place, he will need to regain the healthy shyness of normal wild birds. Since he is beginning to fly, you should begin hacking right away, and you should try to get everybody to agree not to handle the bird any more. When we are hacking young raptors, we wear what we call a “ghost outfit” which is a loose covering that completely disguises the human shape. A burkha would be a great ghost outfit! This outfit is always worn when bringing food to the hack site, so that the young bird does not get used to associating food with humans. Handfeeding, of course, should no longer be necessary, as the bird is old enough to feed itself.

I hope you are feeding the young owl mainly a whole animal diet of mice and insects. This little bird needs to be getting used to natural foods with all of the nutritional components-bones, organ meat, fur, and all-or he will not heal as well. There is no accepted substitute diet for young birds of prey-it’s got to be whole animals such as mice, lizards, and insects. Of course this will also help him recognize prey items as he begins to hunt.

Anne

From: John Mayberry
Sent: Sunday, June 25, 2006 2:16 AM
I hope you will excuse the long absence between emails. Things here have become a bit more animated and much more tense in the last couple of weeks. I do apologize. These pictures were made exactly three weeks since the first ones I took of him. He has made quite a good deal of progress. He flies several “sorties” a day and has begun hunting and killing insects on some of his forays. He seems quite pleased with himself at his successes. He makes little chittering sounds after he eats one and seems very contented. He still has the droop, though I feel it is getting better. Regardless, he is unimpeded in his flights and general inquisitiveness. He is still eating mice and the aforementioned insects. We still have to cut the mice up for him but he is eating the bones, organs and some of the skin. He is providing me with quite an education. I will miss him when he goes. Ironically, of all I have witnessed in this place, I believe after all the other memories have dulled and faded his will remain with me. In the world I’m now in you learn to keep a certain distance between you and others so things don’t hurt as much if something bad happens. This bird has allowed me to turn that side of myself back on. Why, I cannot say.

John

From: Anne Miller
Sent: Sun 7/2/2006 12:41 AM
John
It is so good to hear of the owl’s progress. The pictures show that he is doing well physically. The wing is definitely not drooping as noticeably. Obviously, the good diet you have been offering him has made a real difference.

I was so much interested in hearing that the World Owl Trust has identified your bird as a Hutton’s Little Owl, which does hunt in the daytime, unlike most other owls. It is also good to know that the owl is beginning to hunt I have my fingers crossed that you will be able to get the bird all the way to independence. It will be hard to let go when the time comes that he doesn’t need you any more, but he will be much safer if he is wild and wary.

Anne

From: John Mayberry
Sent: Sunday, July 02, 2006 3:34 PM
After reading your email I went back and re-read mine. He does do most of his hunting in the day. Mice are becoming scarce on camp so I have made contact with the local Iraqi workers about bringing live mice and chicks onto the camp.

The owl continues to strengthen and become more aggressive in his demeanor. He is still very much dependent upon us for the vast majority of his food. We have curtailed much of our direct contact with him; however we cannot afford to leave him in an exposed area alone. He will be killed by predators within a matter of hours. I have lodged complaints of increased feral cat activity in our area, which has resulted in more traps being set to capture them. Other than that I know of nothing else I can do to protect him on that. I am beginning to worry as there is talk of me being transferred to Dubai. If that happens I don’t know what to do. I have some people who will watch and feed him but I can’t gaurantee(sic) how long that will last. I am in a quandary. I will close for now and I hope to hear from you soon.

John

From: John Mayberry
Sent: Wednesday, July 12, 2006 8:31 AM
Hi Ms. Miller
The owl is alive and well and becoming more independent of us. His toleration level has lessened greatly since last I wrote. Once again I am in a quandary. I believe now that the only reason he is still around is due to lack of food sources. We have begun to leave him out for most of the day, which seems to please him no end. He never ventures far. He knows there is food at “his” hideaway and he does return there. What do you suggest? Should we lessen the amount of food to force him further out? As always, any and all advice is appreciated. Where I once felt it was neat that I could handle him, I am now beginning to feel as though WE have been trained by the owl. He has his cake and is eating it too. He is quite the character.

I have come to terms with the fact that we are, at best, limited in our capabilities to provide for him and can in no way guarantee his safety after we release him. I feel we have given him safe haven and am ready to see him attempt a break from us. If there is scarcity of food, what are our options for returning him to the wild, short of putting him back near the spot he first appeared and walking away? This is not a lot unlike rearing a child, is it? I do not want to do anything premature but due to events here the human population is growing rapidly and if he is discovered his fate is certain.

John

From: Anne Miller
Sent: Thursday, July 13, 2006 11:15 AM
John
It’s good to hear that the owl is becoming more independent. I do think it is time to begin to gradually sever the bond and help him become independent. Can you just let him come and go freely? Ideally, by now he should be off on his own, out of sight most of the time, because he is living his own life, and is just showing up once a day at the hack site for food. You are right that it is time to begin to wean him from dependence.

I would be amazed to hear that there are no insects and small rodents at your location, or at least in the vicinity. Small owls like this are very adaptable in their feeding habits, and can usually survive on insects such as grasshoppers, beetles, etc. even if there is not much else available. It’s time to get tough with this bird, and help him break the habit of depending on you for support—gradually.

Hack site: food is left daily at hack site, but is just a small amount. When he is coming and going freely, try skipping a day, and see how he reacts. If he continues to seem normal and energetic, begin offering food every other day instead of daily. Continue this tapering off process until he no longer comes to the hack site. If he is not finding enough food on his own, his behavior will probably let you know. He will hang around more, possibly vocalizing and being more approachable. He might become depressed and listless. I really doubt that this will happen, and am only telling you this so you will have more confidence that he is doing ok if he does not act like that. Continue tapering off the food until he no longer shows up for it.

Roost site: If he is still spending the night inside the building, it’s time to try to gradually change that to a permanent, outside nest box that he can go to safely even after you have left. If the answer is “nowhere is safe for a nest box”, let me know, and I will try to think what else we can do about this problem. I was very much impressed that you realize that he may be a spoiled brat who needs a little “tough love”. There is no doubt at all that with his injured wing he initially needed your care, or he would have died.

Now, his problem is being too tame to humans. Young birds form their sense of identity (imprint) while they are growing up. If they are with their own kind for the first 3 weeks or so (in a small species like this), they usually imprint successfully on their own species. If they are cared for by humans without ghosting during the critical imprinting period, they will actually identify with humans, and this imprinting is not reversible. In the U.S.A., imprinted birds are considered non-releasable, because they will always hang around and pester people. Fortunately, the first pictures you sent me showed that he was already well developed when you found him. I am hoping that this means he is just tame, and is not imprinted on humans. However, your handling during his fledgling period obviously made him tame, and it is very important to work on reversing this. You will probably have to give him some gentle, consistent, negative reinforcement to stay away from humans.

Keep me posted.
Anne

From: John Mayberry
Sent: Friday, July 21, 2006 2:48 AM
Ms. Miller
I hope this finds you well. I apologize for the long lapse in contacting you. Due to events in the region I have been totally swamped at work. This is not a happy place to be right now. I will do my best to describe the setbacks we are facing with the owl. I found him being picked up by soldiers. They were tossing him up to see him fly and then running to catch him. Needless to say, I was very unhappy and let it be known. I had to move him so they would not find him again. I guess he approached them. They told me he did anyway.

He had been catching some insects and we continued trapping mice. That population has gone underground. We never see any and rarely catch any. I caught one last week and fed it to him. He pounced on it but was unable to tear it apart. I let him try for several minutes but he became very frustrated. I was hidden so as far as he knew it was up to him to figure out a way to eat it. I finally cut the mouse open and left again. He devoured it. He does stay around the “home site” most of the time. He doesn’t go very far and as you mentioned he does get vocal if there is not enough food for his liking. He was going out and was fairly successful in catching them. But he was still returning regularly to his place here. If the situation gets worse politically in this region we may have to evacuate and then he will have no choice but to make it on his own or die. I wish I were able to still allow him to roam around but he will be killed by soldiers or run over if left out. As I see it, his best bet is for us to give him as much food as possible to increase his strength. Then if we have to leave he will at least have that to rely on. In his favor (I think), he doesn’t like to be handled as much as he once appeared to. He flies away from us if picked up or we get very near him. And the preening he once did on the hair of my arms has now turned into pecking and harder biting, accompanied by much vocalizing. It sounds like scolding when he does it. I hope this explains most of the hardship I face in attempting to release him.

I have not had a chance to check the website so I don’t even know if this is on there or not. I hope it makes it. This has been an interesting journey for me. I plan to get involved in a program such as yours when I do return to the States for good. I have looked at your site many times and I think it is great that you’re doing the work that you do. I wish I was more knowledgeable now. I might have done a better job with this little fellow. What good, if any, I was able to do was due to your help and I want to thank you. I had absolutely no idea what to do. These are hard times here and I pray the owls’ story has a happy conclusion.

I will close for now. I thank you again for all of your help. I want to say that now in case we have to move and I don’t get a chance to contact you again from here. If that happens I will contact you upon resettling and let you know the outcome of our friends’ story. I don’t foresee that happening but nothing can be taken for granted in this environment. Take care and I hope to be in touch with you soon.

John

From: Anne Miller
Sent: Friday, July 21, 2006 9:04 PM
John
I don’t know if you will have time to read this message, with so much turmoil going on, and so many demands being made on your time. I just want you to know I agree with your decision to confine the owl to keep it safe for the time being. I was horrified, of course, to hear of the little bird being tossed around like a toy. As long as he is so approachable, the hacking project will have to be on hold. According to my reckoning, your bird is about the age he would be striking out on his own, and his parents would no longer be feeding him. Because of his injury, and his unusual history, it should not do much harm to keep him a little longer. As you say, it will give you a chance to feed him well and he will gain a little extra strength before he has to make it on his own. Meanwhile, we need to look at what is preventing him from safely returning to the wild, to see if we can find alternate solutions to the problem in case you have to leave. These are the questions I have to ask:

1) Can he capture enough food to keep himself from starving, while he continues to grow and gain in strength and skill as a predator? I was a little surprised that your bird could not open a mouse without help. However, mice are not essential to his survival. Mice are the equivalent of sirloin steak for him. Highly nutritious, delicious, but not daily fare. I am pretty sure you have told me that he can capture larger insects–beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, even scorpions–in which case, he will not starve. These are usually abundant, and are not too hard to capture. This is the main diet for small owls such as this, so I don’t see why he can’t get by.

2) Can he be released where he will not have any contact with humans? Of course releasing him would be very dangerous in such a crowded and chaotic place. It is just not going to be possible to reverse the tameness in your current situation. As long as you are keeping him, though, I would limit his contact with other people, and try to have some kind of “ghost” outfit, just so you’re not reinforcing his tameness. Is there any way you can take him off to an area where there is no human activity, and let him go there? As long as the habitat is appropriate, he should be ok, and as long as he is away from humans for awhile, he will eventually regain the normal wariness of a wild owl. The preferred habitat for Little Owls is open fields and parkland, and they like to nest in holes in trees or cavities of some sort. I am well aware that it may be too dangerous for you to try to find such a release site. Please don’t think I am suggesting that you take any dangerous risks to release the bird. You’ll have to be the judge of how feasible this might be. I’m just letting you know that this could be a solution.

3) Can he really fly? I gather that he has some flight ability, and I don’t doubt that it will continue to improve. But I have to admit that I was concerned at the description of the way the soldiers tossed him in the air and caught him. A tame but healthy fledgling would perhaps approach a stranger and allow himself to be picked up, but if he was tossed in the air, he ought to fly off and avoid the rough handling. For the kind of hunting this bird does, less than perfect flight might be adequate, if he is released where insects are abundant. But this would my main concern in deciding whether or not to release him.

If you have positive answers to all three questions, then I think you can feel pretty good about letting him go (somewhere away from people) any time now, in case you have to leave. Small owls like this mature very quickly, and he really should be old enough to make it on his own. Keeping him a week or two longer might help, and probably won’t hurt, as long as he gets some exercise, and opportunities to capture and kill insects. But most juveniles of his age and species would probably be on their own by now. I do hope this is helpful. It is such a sad, difficult situation, but it has really meant a lot to me to be able to try to help you and the beautiful little owl. Please keep in touch. I want to hear what you finally decide to do.

Anne

From: John Mayberry
Sent: Saturday, July 29, 2006 4:06 AM

Hi Ms. Miller
I am saddened and sorry to tell you the little owl died during the night. I do not know the cause. Since I last wrote you I have been temporarily assigned to the prison camp here. Yesterday was my last day, thankfully. I had been slipping away to come and check on him throughout the day. I stayed out of his line of sight so he didn’t know I was around. I observed him coming in and out of his quarters. We scouted the area and found a place that was relatively secure. We camouflaged his home and he came and went at his leisure. He was catching bugs and we put some mouse in his cage in case he returned looking for food. I was really beginning to feel he had a chance. My friends and I had even been utilizing maps of the area to plan a release spot for him and had settled on two that we were going to go and scout. I am now officially going to be transferring to Dubai sometime in August so I knew I would have to make a decision soon. Last night when I returned from the prison I went by and I got a real treat. He was unaware of my presence and was bathing himself from the water dish we put inside with him. He was quite involved with himself. I watched him for several minutes and he appeared well then. I saw him one last time on my way out of camp and he was perched on a small limb inside his pen. I could not believe it this morning when I walked up and saw him lying on the floor of the pen. There were no visible signs of any attack, he was just there. I wish there was some way to have a necropsy done but I don’t have that option. I must tell you, honestly, you were the first person I thought of when I came upon him. I didn’t know how I would be able to tell you. You are the only person I have shared this with so far. I have been telling myself all day that at least he was able to experience a small quality of life and didn’t meet some violent end when he was wandering around initially. Truthfully, it hasn’t helped a hell of a lot. We buried him in his hunting area.I want to thank you once again for all your help. I don’t know what I would have done if you had not been there with your time and advice. I finally got around to seeing the story posted on your website. Thank you for that as well. My family was very happy to see the events through our correspondence. I hope that someday when I am through here I might be able to visit your park and meet you to say thanks in person. I will close now. I have much to do in the way of getting my house in order before transferring. Again, I am sorry to have to pass this on to you. Take care and know that you are greatly appreciated here.John

From: Anne Miller
Sent: Saturday, July 29, 2006 11:27 PM
John
I am sad to hear the little owl did not make it. It sounds as if you really did have a chance of releasing him successfully. Knowing the difficulties you’ve been working under, it seems miraculous you were able to bring the owl along as far as you did, with such a great quality of life. I am really mystified about what could have caused his death. Your description of his behavior the night before he died, bathing and preening, is the behavior of a healthy bird. If it had been a gradual decline, he would definitely not have been preening himself so soon before dying. So we know that whatever it was, it was something of very rapid onset. I just don’t know of very many serious diseases or parasites (in this country, anyway) that don’t have a more gradual onset. The same goes for any kind of nutritional deficiency-which we know was not a problem anyway, based on the very good care you had been giving. I think we can at least be safe in assuming that he suffered very little.

As a wildlife rehabilitator, this sad ending is a frequent experience for me. After all, we’re working with animals that were in trouble to start with. We have to give them the best care we can, and hope that they have the physical and psychological stamina to survive the stress of the original problem, and the stress of rehabilitation, and still be able to return to the wild. I feel sad that the little owl didn’t make it all the way, but I also feel enormously uplifted that you cared enough to help the helpless young creature with the droopy wing when he most needed your help. I have to tell you that everyone here with whom I have been able to share the owl’s story has felt the same way. In one of the most dangerous places in the world, surrounded by the machinery of war, you and your buddies took the time and the trouble to help a young wild creature in distress. It gives us all hope for the human spirit, at a time when so much human activity seems dark and pitiless.

All of us here at the Alabama Wildlife Center are grateful to you for sharing this wonderful experience with us. It would be so great if you could come for a visit some day. I will post our final messages on the website later this week. Take care of yourself, John, and please keep in touch.

Anne

From: John Mayberry
Sent: Sunday, July 30, 2006 6:31 AM
Ms. Miller
Several of us spent most of last night discussing the possible causes of the owl’s death. There are a few of us who either have birds or did at one time and we all agree with your point concerning his fast decline and his actions so soon before that time. The one thing we could think of that would possibly explain it, to us anyway, is that we took rocket and mortar fire into our area that night. Some of it was close to his pen and we figure it may have caused him more stress than he could tolerate, leading to a heart attack or something of that nature. We can think of no other explanation for the unmolested condition he was discovered in. It appeared as if he just dropped over dead. I just don’t know and realize that even if I did it would not return him. I feel lucky to have come in contact with him as he presented me with opportunities to step outside of myself and that is no small feat in this environment. Thank you for your kind thoughts and words. I appreciate them. I know we did everything within our power to help him but still, it is a natural tendency to wonder if there was something missed.

I am set to transfer from here in the next few weeks. I will be working in Dubai for a while. It will be a welcome break from the war zone. I will stay in contact and would very much like to visit Alabama. Please pass along my thanks for the kind thoughts sent this way from your associates. Please take care and I wish you all there the best of luck in your endeavors.

John

From: Anne Miller
Sent: Sunday, July 30, 2006 4:46 PM
John–the rocket and mortar fire could definitely have caused the owl’s death, even if there was no direct trauma. I wondered if something like that might have happened. What a shame, when he was so close to being released. I’m so glad you will be able to get away from there fairly soon.

Best wishes.
Anne