Not all stories have happy endings, but that doesn't mean there isn't value in their telling.
On his way home Monday night, Nick Krause spotted something odd in the street near his northwest Rochester home.
"It looked like a small garbage bag on the road," Krause said.
The object was in the opposite or on-coming lane, and as he passed it, Krause realized the small object on the road was an owl. Not wanting the little bird to get hurt, he stopped to investigate.
He had a pair of work gloves in his truck, so he put them on and tapped the bird to see if it would respond. The bird was breathing, but it wouldn't move. There was some blood on its beak.
Within short order, Krause heard from his oldest son, Collin Krause, that he'd seen another vehicle hit the bird a few minutes before. Was it injured? Could it be helped?
"I knew I couldn't just leave him," Krause said, referring to the owl. "But have you seen the talons on those things?"
He enlisted the help of his neighbor, Marv, who wasn't quite sure what Krause wanted. Krause asked if Marv had a live trap or something else to hold the bird. They found a clear Tupperware container and kept the lid askew so there'd be fresh air.
Gloves on his hands, Krause reached down to pick up the owl.
"It looks like this big, fluffy pillow, and you have to squeeze in there to find the body," he said. "It didn't weigh anything at all."
Krause made phone call after phone call trying to find out who takes care of injured birds. Neither the sheriff nor the police would take the animal, nor would Rochester Animal Control. Veterinarians won't care for wild animals, he was told. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources was no help either.
Someone told him to call The Raptor Center in the Twin Cities, but they were closed, and Krause wasn't sure he could keep the owl overnight.
"I was on the phone about 40 minutes trying to handle this," Krause said.
Eventually Krause called Quarry Hill Nature Center and Jenny Doty, the office manager at Quarry Hill, answered. Yes, she could take the owl. As luck would have it, Krause lived near her house, so he took the bird to her.
"We try to get the raptor as soon as possible so we know it's contained safely," Doty said. "That's why I said bring it over. I took it to Quarry Hill and our naturalist looked at it."
Doty said they take possession of about a dozen or so raptors a year when contacted by concerned callers like Krause. The nature center is licensed to hold raptors on a temporary basis.
To the trained eye of the naturalist, Doty said, the bird looked to be in serious trouble.
"It was breathing slowly, and it looked like he might not make it," she said.
Still, overnight the bird went from not responding to spreading its wings and opening one of its eyes.
The folks at Quarry Hill then called The Raptor Center, part of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Minnesota's St. Paul campus. There, folks sent a volunteer down to Quarry Hill to pick up the bird and bring it back for evaluation.
Lori Arent, assistant director at The Raptor Center, said they get about 900 to 1,000 raptors a year. Unfortunately, only about half can be worked on as the rest have injuries too debilitating to try to save them. And birds hit by cars are often in pretty bad shape.
"If (someone sees) an owl sitting on the side of the road, if we take action quickly, there's a better chance to save it," Arent said.
Like Krause, she said, the impulse is to save the bird no matter how badly it might be hurt, but that's not always possible.
Remember, not all stories end happily. Well, the owl found by Krause made it to The Raptor Center, but an evaluation of the bird showed leg broken in several places including the knee joint. Plus, the bird lost the use of one of its eyes, meaning this particular Barred Owl would never be able to survive in the wild.
To stop the owl's suffering, the bird was euthanized, Arent said.
"People want life to win," Doty said.
Proving that point, Krause added, "I kept thinking about him all night long. I couldn’t wait to call (Tuesday) morning and find out if he lived."
If you find an owl or other raptor
• Be careful trying to handle it. Use leather gloves to the wrist for small raptors, welders gloves for medium raptors and do not attempt to hold large live raptors.
• If the bird is injured or stunned, cover with a blanket to pick it up.
• Call your county sheriff for information on what to do with the injured bird. In Olmsted County, Quarry Hill Nature Center is licensed to handle and arrange transport for injured birds.
• Eventually, raptors are taken to The Raptor Center in Twin Cities.