Schriever wildlife volunteer releases recouperated Great Horned Owl
SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. - Phil Cable, 50th Network Operations Group acquisition program manager, and volunteer with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, releases Ace, a Great Horned Owl, Sept. 3, after treating him for head injuries. The owl was found by Kim Elster, 50th NOG APM, outside the Dekok Building last srping. It appeared he may have injured himself by flying into the building while chasing prey. (U.S. Air Force photo/Edward Parsons)
by Scott Prater
10/29/2008 - SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Kim Elster locked her car, shouldered her work and began the short walk to her office inside the Dekok Building here. It was a typical spring Sunday afternoon, quiet, cool and normal.
But then she noticed something peculiar. An owl sat perched on top of an air conditioner unit on the south side of the building. She hurried in, but couldn't stop thinking about the owl's strange behavior. Hours later, as the owl remained perched in that very same spot, she sensed something amiss, and knew just who to call.
She knew her coworker, Phil Cable, a fellow 50th Network Operations Group acquisition program manager, volunteered with the Colorado Division of Wildlife. One phone call brought him, his wife Cheryl and five years of wild-animal rescue experience.
While Cheryl kept the owl's attention, Phil donned a pair of welding gloves, grabbed a net, and snuck up behind it. He captured the owl in the net and then carefully pulled it out and placed it in a carrier.
Mr. Cable didn't know what was wrong, but he did know these birds don't just hangout on the side of buildings in broad daylight. After a quick transport to the Ellicott Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, then to a local veterinarian, everyone's questions were answered.
An examination revealed the Great Horned Owl had suffered some sort of head trauma. He was blind, temporarily as it turned out. But, his experience translated into a three-month stay at the rehabilitation center.
Mr. Cable guessed the owl had hit the building while chasing after prey. He also guessed that he, his wife Cheryl and Ms. Elster were responsible for saving the owl's life.
"Ace would have starved to death," Mr. Cable said of the bird, named by Kim Elster's son Jason. "He wouldn't have lived long enough without food to regain his sight to where he could hunt again. And if a bird is on the ground and can't fly, there are too many predators who will take it out."
The Cables began their wildlife volunteer service with the Colorado DOW five years ago, when their love of animals motivated them to take action.
The couple has a plethora of stories to tell -- of rescues, humorous false alarms and strange circumstances, all of which make the volunteer job worthwhile.
"The great thing about this experience is you get to interact with wild animals," Mr. Cable said. "It's illegal to keep wild animals as pets in Colorado, and this way, you gain a wide variety of experience dealing with animals you normally wouldn't."
He remembers his first rescue vividly. He was called out to a farm near Calhan. A man had a porcupine trapped in his barn. Injured by dogs, the porcupine worked itself into a corner and refused to budge. Mr. Cable removed the animal and transported it to a veterinarian.
Throughout the years he has seen foxes trapped in window wells, ornery raccoons in the midst of nefarious deeds, pigeons mistaken for hawks, and water fowl that had drifted too far away from ... water.
"We found a water fowl alongside a road once," he said. "They can't take off from the ground. They need water, and a long, flat stretch of it. So we threw a coat over it and transported it."
Seems like tough and unrewarding work right? Not for the Cables.
They each log 100 to 150 volunteer hours a year. Their reward comes from knowing they're helping keep wildlife wild.
"They (wild animals) belong in the wild, they're happier there and they serve a purpose," Mr. Cable said. "The more time you spend with them, the more you get attached and you can tell each one has its own personality. You can almost read them, and you miss them when they're gone."
Ace had been in the rehabilitation center three months when it was his turn to go back into the wild. He actually recuperated within a few weeks, but releasing a young male owl during mating and rearing season is not a good thing according to Mr. Cable, so Ace was kept until Sept. 3. DOW volunteers like to release in the area the bird was found so Ace was released here along with another Great Horned Owl named "Shilo."
Fellow volunteers, Mr. and Mrs. Cable, Ms. Elster, her son and a few interested parties attended the dusk release near the base fitness center.
"You never know which way they're going to go and it's always a good idea to release in an area with trees," Mr. Cable said. "While Shilo flew south and landed on a light post, Ace took off and flew north instantly. We're guessing he was going home."
Mr. Cable advises anyone who witnesses a wild animal in distress or trouble to call the Colorado Department of Wildlife or visit the CDOW online at http://wildlife.state.co.us/. Also anyone interested in volunteering can get information at the same Web site.