MOORESVILLE, NC. -- It's not often you're in a staring contest with a wild owl.
Maybe it was curiosity or maybe it knew I've been talking about it on the news. Either way, here we are in a flight cage at the Carolina Raptor Center, the bird's home for the past three months.
"She was in a bit of trouble when we got her, she had a pretty horrible fracture,” said Dave Scott, staff Veterinarian at the Center.
He's been taking care of owl number 21301 since it got here. The raptors are numbered, not named to avoid staff getting attached. For the sake of this story, we'll call this owl "2."
We first told you about 2 back in January when a state trooper found the bird injured along the interstate in Forsyth County.
"You can see that this fracture of this bone end belongs down here and it's very close to the shoulder,” observed Scott. “Makes these fractures a lot more difficult to repair, makes the recovery a lot longer. And in this case, this bird had severe, severe damage to the muscles in that area."
Within days, 2 was in surgery. "The bright white that you see there is our stainless-steel implants," said Scott.
2 is now on the mend and has been improving every day, rehabbing by flying from perch to perch in her flight cage. She could use some work on her landing.
Her droopy wing is also a concern. "Although this looks minor, this is really a significant problem for this bird," said Scott.
2 is one of more than a hundred raptors at the center in Mooresville. If they're here, they've been injured and brought in by raptor transport volunteers - like first responders for birds of prey.
"We see almost a thousand patients a year,” said Jim Warren, Executive Director of the Carolina Raptor Center. “That's just raptors."
A great horned owl came here 11 days ago with a broken arm.
"You can clearly see a nice radius bone, it's nice and straight, then here's the ulna bone, it's clearly fractured," said Scott.
On this visit, the bird is getting x-rayed and bandaged. "We'll continue the physical therapy for probably three more weeks, two weeks and we'll see where she goes from there."
There are several paths these birds can then take. Those that heal well enough are released back into the wild. Those that don't might end up across the property at the education center.
"Visitors come and see what we've got going on," said Warren.
Owls, vultures, hawks, even bald eagles call it home. About a hundred birds live here permanently.
It can get expensive. The non-profit spends $120,000 a year just on food.
A well-oiled team of employees and volunteers keep it running, knowing their work here is important. "It's really, really satisfying to see them fly again,” admitted Scott. “And then to see them get released is huge. It never gets old."
2's future is not certain just yet. She's paired up with another owl in her flight cage in the hopes they can help each other rehab back to health.
It could be another two months before doctors know whether she can survive in the wild again. Her droopy wing will be the deciding factor.