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Injured owl released into wild after being struck by car in Hopkinton

A barred owl struck by a car in Hopkinton on Jan. 3, and rehabbed at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic with an eye injury, was released late Tuesday by Westborough Animal Control Officer Melinda MacKendrick at Whitehall State Park.
A barred owl struck by a car in Hopkinton on Jan. 3, and rehabbed at the Tufts Wildlife Clinic with an eye injury, was released late Tuesday by Westborough Animal Control Officer Melinda MacKendrick at Whitehall State Park.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

An injured barred owl was released back into the wild Tuesday evening after it collided with a car in Hopkinton earlier this month and was rescued by a motorist.

Cliff Kistner, of Upton, saw the owl strike a car on Jan. 3 and noticed it was injured, a Facebook post from Westborough police said. Kistner pulled over, grabbed the bird, and continued driving, eventually stumbling upon Westborough police. The officer notified Animal Control Officer Melinda MacKendrick, who assisted Kistner in transporting the owl to Tufts Wildlife Clinic at Cummings Veterinary Medical Center at Tufts University, police said.

At the hospital, the bird, which MacKendrick said is believed to be a male, was treated for head trauma and injuries to its right eye. Dr. Maureen Murray, who treated the owl at the clinic said in an interview Tuesday it was lucky to be found quickly after being hit.

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“It isn’t always the case sometimes with our patients someone just finds them somewhere on the road and we don’t know how long it’s been since the injury happened,” she said.

The barred owl, which Murray said weighs about 25 ounces, suffered from what she likened to a moderate concussion in a human after the crash. Murray said the owl was initially not concerned by the presence of humans around it, which tipped her off to the head trauma.

“A bird, any wild animal for that matter, that is not concerned about you being near it is a wild animal that is not acting normally because they should be very concerned if a person is near them,” Murray said. “They should want to try to make you go away through their threatening behavior or trying to get away.”

Westborough Animal Control Officer Melinda MacKendrick at Whitehall State Park carried the towel-draped box with the owl to the release site.
Westborough Animal Control Officer Melinda MacKendrick at Whitehall State Park carried the towel-draped box with the owl to the release site. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The owl resuming its typical behavior of clicking its beak to ward off humans proved to Murray that it was on the road to recovery.

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Murray said the fate of this barred owl is not uncommon as the clinic has treated several owls who have suffered similar injuries while hunting for prey along the side of roads.

“In the fall and in the winter we do observe them hunting by the side of roads, particularly in the winter and they’re focused on whatever it is they’re trying to catch and they’re not paying attention to the traffic so they’ll swoop down over the road and end up bumping into a car,” she said. “It’s something that we see very commonly, and with that type of impact injury with a car impact we do very commonly see eye injuries. "

Barred owls are medium sized owls common to Massachusetts and known for their distinctive calls, Murray said.

“You don’t see them all that often because they are active at night,” she said. “They’re hard to spot, even though they very well may be in someone’s backyard but [it’s] easier to know that they’re there by hearing them, they have a pretty distinctive call. But, again, they can be in your yard and you’re just not going to see them so unless you hear them you may not know they’re there.”

Murray said it was rewarding to see an animal be able to resume its normal life after being treated.

“There’s so many obstacles that come from [wild animals] living in proximity to us that we’re always just very happy when we can, you know, get one brave one back to health and release them back out there, because in some small way we’re able to give back to these animals that have a lot of obstacles in their path.”

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MacKendrick, who released the owl, said she was happy she got to be a part of the release.

“You can’t see how big my grin is,” she said. “It’s one of the best feelings to be able to release them back where they came from.”


Charlie McKenna can be reached at charlie.mckenna@globe.com.