Great horned owl released into wild

Bob Jensen, co-founder of the Chocolay Raptor Center, prepares to release a great horned owl that was rehabilitated at the center. The owl was released at the place it was found: Buffalo Wild Wings in Marquette Township. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)

MARQUETTE — You could say it was a case of more wild wings coming to Wild Wings.

A rehabilitated owl was released Monday from the same vicinity where had been found injured: the Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant along U.S. 41 in Marquette Township.

The Chocolay Raptor Center, based in Harvey and operated by co-founders Jerry Maynard and Bob Jensen, recently took in a great horned owl, which they nurtured back to health at the center.

Matt Kniskern, a conservation officer with the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, said that on Oct. 16 his manager alerted him to the hurt bird.

“It was hiding underneath a bush next to that brick building over there,” Kniskern said. “He wasn’t too happy when I found him.”

The center then took in the bird, which Maynard said is likely a male.

“It had a broken wing bone, but we’re pretty sure he had been on the ground, living on the ground, for a couple of weeks because it was almost healed,” Maynard said.

Jensen speculated on the cause of the bird’s injury.

“He had to have run into something, either a car or just something when he was out looking for food,” Jensen said.

The prognosis for the owl is good, he said.

“He’s doing very well,” Jensen said. “He’s aggressive. He’s flying. We put him in our 40-foot flight cage for a few days.”

Maynard talked about the owl to a small crowd that showed up to witness the release.

He said the bird was emaciated and malnourished when it came to the center since it hadn’t been eating well.

“The broken wing bone was actually partially healed, so we’re working on the theory that he survived on the ground for several weeks while the wing bone was healing,” Maynard said. “Usually it takes about six to eight weeks for a bone to heal, but after one week, it got loose in the cage in the infirmary, and it flew across the infirmary. So, I said, ‘OK, it can fly.'”

And fly it did after Jensen held him for a few minutes after removing it from a box, heading off in a westerly direction and then perching on a tree before flying away again.

Jensen said the center has two permanent birds that are used in educational programs: Phoenix, a peregrine falcon, and Erik, a red-tailed hawk.

However, Jensen said the facility might get two more residents: an American kestrel and a merlin, both falcon species.

“As Jerry likes to say, we’ll have one of each of the three falcons indigenous to Michigan,” Jensen said. “A little specialty.”

In fact, he said the falcons could be used in rotation when the center presents educational programs.

One of the center’s goals is to educate the public about raptors — unique birds with sharp beaks and talons whose predatory behavior is an important part of the ecosystem.