Stephen J. Lee / GRAND FORKS HERALD - At dusk Wednesday, skiers, firefighters, police and birders rescued a great horned owl from a kite-eating tree down by the Red River in Grand Forks’ Lincoln Park.
Cross-country skiers first saw the proud raptor, hanging ingloriously from the tip of one wing, caught in a tassel of kite string, nearly 20 feet above the ground.
Lisa Wagner first saw it, then waved over two fellow skiers.
“We called 911,” said Margaret Zidon, who was skiing with Mary Haugstad as the sun sank over the snowy park, quiet except for the idling diesel fire engine and another horned owl whooing from a distance.
Police and a fire truck had arrived first, with some rescue equipment.
They all waited for local bird experts Tim Driscoll and Dave Lambeth to show up.
A retired biochemistry and biology professor at UND’s medical school, Lambeth directs the local Christmas bird count and has traveled the world tracking birds.
Director of the Urban Raptor Research Project and certified raptor expert, Driscoll admits he knows hawks much better than owls. The two men work together often on bird things.
Using long aluminum poles and a net, they got the owl down safely.
Grasping in his hand the owl’s impressively taloned feet, Driscoll carried it upright out of the snow. The owl turned, its huge yellow eyes taking in the surroundings as darkness fell.
The signature several-note whoo of another horned owl, heard often during the rescue from nearer to the river, was no doubt the owl’s mate, Lambeth and Driscoll said.
“They begin to court in December,” Driscoll said.
The only noise this owl made was a few rapid clacks of his beak, a sign he was getting annoyed.
Driscoll figured, at quick glance, based mostly on its size, this is a male. He planned to check closer later.
“With raptors, females are larger,” he said.
This owl looked close to the official average: nearly two feet long, nearly four feet of wingspan.
Driscoll put it in a small dog kennel in the back of his vehicle and planned to keep it overnight to allow it to recover.
The owl didn’t want to fly after being released from the happenstance snare, but Driscoll is pretty sure the wing is strained, not broken.
“I think in the morning he will be all right,” he said.
Such owl couples don’t build nests, but use tree cavities or empty hawk nests, living on mice, squirrels, rabbits, maybe small birds and, to even things out, a cat once in awhile.