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Happy New Year for a Very Lucky Barred Owl

On Christmas Eve, 2023, Travis and Lisa Mobley were driving the dark back roads of Pike County, Georgia, when Lisa, riding shotgun, suddenly caught a blur of something feathered on the ground.


“I think that was an owl,” she blurted out. “We have to turn around. Go back! Go back!”


Sure enough, near the shoulder they found a young barred owl, dazed, and unable to lift itself. Lisa and Travis didn’t see any obvious injuries, but they knew something was not right, and they had to help the impaired raptor, or else it would likely perish on the roadside.


The couple gently covered the bird with Lisa’s coat. Once lightly wrapped, she held it on her lap as they drove to find help. She recalled how it barely moved, and she was worried.


As fate would serve, Travis Mobley works with veteran birder, Charlie Muise. By day, and as emergency requires, Muise is a firefighter and part of the team at Lamar County Fire & Rescue. But during migration season and any chance he gets, Muise leads a team of people in banding birds at Panola Mountain State Park. He also teaches courses on bird identification and banding, and during fall migration, Muise contributes as volunteer staff to the Jekyll Island Banding Station.


Charlie Muise was the best co-worker Mobley could have in seeking help for the injured bird.


The only challenge—nearest wildlife rehab facility, Chattahoochee Nature Center, would be closed until after Christmas, which meant Charlie and his family would need to care for the owl until they could get it into the care of Kathryn Dudeck, wildlife director at the center and wildlife rehabilitation expert.


The Muise family looked after the owl for three days.


“And it wouldn’t eat,” recalled Tracey Muise, outdoor educator, science teacher and wife to Charlie. “We were really worried the owl wasn’t going to make it because it did not eat the entire time it was with us.”


As soon as the Chattahoochee Nature Center re-opened, Allan Muise, Tracey and Charlie’s son home on leave from the Navy, made the 90-minute drive to Roswell, Georgia, where Dudek received the barred owl and began its rehabilitation.


Turns out, the owl was not at all at risk of starving.


“Kathryn examined the owl, and his crop, what carries out digestion for birds, was full,” explained Charlie. “And he was very fat, which is an indication of how great a hunter this young bird must be.”


In Dudeck’s examination, she determined the barred owl was male and had suffered a concussion, likely the result of getting caught in turbulence from a large moving vehicle. This knocked him to the ground and rendered him flightless. Hatched in 2023 and prior to his tumble in traffic, the young nocturnal raptor was well on his way to being an exceptional hunter.


He remained at Chattahoochee Nature Center for three weeks under Dudek’s care, until his final test for release. The owl had to demonstrate he could capture live prey. And so, in his 60 ft. flyway enclosure, after a live scurrying mouse was released, the patient swooped in and swiftly devoured it.


It was time to return the barred owl to his home.


On Saturday, January 20, Charlie Muise crimped a numbered ID band around his leg, and a group of friends and family convened at the country home of Travis Mobley’s mother. Her place was near were they’d initially found the injured owl and perfect spot for releasing him.


“There’s great habitat here,” observed Tracey Muise, looking up at the leafless, yet towering canopy. “A swamp, and lots of trees, barred owls like eating frogs in the swamps.”


And with family assembled, Tracey opened the box, tilted and jiggled it gently until the owl slid out. In a matter of seconds the great bird was off the ground and back in his trees.


The young, rapacious, barred owl was home, safe and healed.


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