When Deryl Nethercott backed out of his driveway he didn’t foresee returning minutes later with a screech owl under his arm.
“You have to watch for those talons. They are really sharp,” he says.
Nethercott was driving on Christina Street near the entrance to Canatara Park on Jan. 7 when he saw an owl fly into the side of a vehicle about 6 p.m.
“The vehicle kept moving and I could see the owl sitting upright with one wing extended out a bit,” he said. “It was definitely stunned.”
He parked and approached the injured creature.
“It was dead centre on Christina and that was lucky or it would have been hit. I waited for five cars to go by and then picked it up with my bare hands.”
Handling a raptor without gloves isn’t recommended but there was no time to lose, he said.
“I was worried she’d be hit so I took the owl in my car and drove down the street.”
Wrapping an arm around it, he held it close to avoid the talons, he said.
“Its heartbeat was rapid when I got it in the car but soon after it grew faint and closed its eyes. I feared for the worst.”
Nethercott drove the short distance home and asked his wife Sharon to get a box, and they called the Bluewater Centre for Raptor Rehabilitation.
Nethercott is a birder with 30 years experience and has been to every province and several states seeking out new ones. He has a life list of 375 species.
“That’s not a lot when you consider there are 10,000 species on the planet,” he said. “It’s like a treasure hunt. It’s always an adventure.”
Nethercott is all but certain the owl he picked up had been living in his neighbourhood for years. His neighbour, Shawn McKnight, built a nesting box in his backyard and a red phased screech owl moved in. Screech owls can be grey or reddish.
Within hours, a volunteer from the rehab centre arrived to pick up the bird. It spent five days convalescing in a cage before being released again in Nethercott’s yard.
“We swung open the door of its cage and waited. Suddenly it flew out,” he said. “Our neighbours saw it the next day.”
This area is rich in birds. In fact, last year 270 species were recorded in Sarnia-Lambton, the third highest total in Ontario.
“There are at least four to six screech owls that nest year after year in Canatara Park,” said Nethercott. “I’ve seen their baby owls. They are so ugly they’re cute.
“We believe those babies came from this red phased female and a grey screech. I’m very glad I was able to help rather than see her smushed on the road.”