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You can’t train an owl to do this

Staff Writer | May 22, 2020 1:00 AM

RATHDRUM — Laborers at the BNSF Railway Hauser fueling facility had quite the hoot.

They discovered a great horned owl tucked behind the front plow of a locomotive Sunday.

David Sewell, first shift laborer foreman at the facility, guessed the owl had been squeezed in the tight spot since the empty coal train departed Wenatchee, bound for Missoula.

It was a normal day of work directing the guys in the yard, when someone called Sewell and asked him to bring a camera. In his 15 years at the yard, Sewell has only seen two or three birds holed up in the trains. He immediately called Birds of Prey Northwest for guidance, while a few guys gently coaxed the owl from the locomotive with a broom.

Once the owl was standing on the ground beneath the train, the team encouraged the owl with brooms to the front of the locomotive, where another foreman was able to pick it up by its feet. He wore thick welding gloves to protect his hands from the owl’s talons.

“The fueling depot is noisy. An industrial area doesn’t usually attract an owl like this — they like quiet places,” said Courtney Wallace of BNSF Railway. “The team did a great job making sure he was taken care of.”

Safely captured, the owl was secured in a box and kept in a quiet, dark room until Birds of Prey Northwest volunteer Drew Day was able to transfer the bird to Kootenai Animal Hospital.

“The owl is doing very well,” reported Janie Veltkamp, founding director of Birds of Prey Northwest. “But the patient is not talking, so my job as a biologist is more difficult.”

Veltkamp said that if a person is able to walk up to an owl and pick it up, something is definitely wrong.

“This one presented in a mysterious way but he is alive and well,” Veltkamp said. “He will be held for a few weeks prior to his release.”

Because no one is sure where the owl latched on, his full story will remain a mystery.

The great horned owl is the most common patient Birds of Prey Northwest rehabilitates.

“We have six babies here right now as we speak,” Veltkamp said. “On a windy day like today [Thursday], the babies get blown from their nests. They won’t survive on the ground.”