By David Fleet
Atlas Twp.- It’s dusk on a late May afternoon and Ron Cleveland pulls off a rural township road.
His two caged feathered passengers, tipping the scale at just under a half a pound each are healthy except they both are blind in one eye.
“There’s not much more we can do for them,” said Cleveland, who has served more than 20 years as a volunteer animal rehabilitator.
“They hunt by sight rather than sound—hope they make it.”
Cleveland returned two Eastern Screech Owls in the township following several months of care at the Howell Nature Center located in Livingston County. Both little owls were injured in separate car incidents which destroyed an eye. One owl was found just inches from busy M-15 by local resident Lucy Grogan, of Lucy’s Pet Supplies & Feeds, 8159 S. State Road, Goodrich.
The other owl’s original home was unknown, but was ready to be released.
“They both can hunt live game,” he said. “We tested their hunting ability in Howell, so now it’s up to them. The bigger issue are other predators in the area that show up to hassle them in a new area.”
Cleveland opens the cage, the owls fly about 10 yards up in a tree.
“They just looked back at me,” he said. “That’s all we can do.”
The center is home to Michigan’s largest wildlife rehabilitation clinic – caring for more than 4,000 wild animals per year.
Dana DeBenham, director of wildlife and education at the Howell center said the owls had injured left eyes.
“They had been hit by a car,” said DeBenham. “This type of injury is typical for owls, they are tiny and nocturnal flying low to the ground. They often bounce off cars like the little Goodrich owl did.”
DeBenham said owls can survive with an eye injury since they hunt also use sound in finding prey.
“They often sit quiet in a tree and can locate pray with their hearing from a long distance,” she said. “They hear mice or other rodents rustling through the weeds from a long distance.”
DeBenham said about 70 percent of the owls that arrive into the center are injured due to human interaction.
The center cares for about 1,000 animals each day.
“Our goal is to get them healthy and return the animal back to the wild,” said DeBenham.
The Howell Nature Center relies on fundraisers to keep the clinic open. Check out howellnaturecenter.org for more information.
Cleveland has released many wild animals over his years of service.
“I often wonder how they all do,” he said. “There’s not much you can do other than hope they make it. A lot of people at the nature center spend many hours helping these animals. I get the best part of the deal by watching them run away.”