LIHUE — After more than a month of rehabilitation a pueo (Hawaiian short-eared owl) was released late Friday on private ranch land in west Kauai. The release site is near where the young bird was rescued in late March and taken to the Save Our Shearwaters facility at the Kauai Humane Society.
Dr. Andre Raine of the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project spotted the bird struggling alongside the highway on March 22.
“After Dr. Raine brought the bird to us, we treated her head and eye injuries and a fractured radius in her left wing,” said Tracy Anderson of SOS.
On April 11, the owl was flown to the Hawaii Wildlife Center on the Big Island so that she could continue her rehabilitation in their large flight aviary.
“She healed up nicely and was flying, so the wildlife center sent her back to us for release,” Anderson said.
Anderson believes the young pueo was hit by a car. Owls are often attracted to roadsides by rats and mice, which in turn are attracted by the easy pickings of food scraps and rubbish discarded by people.
Anderson and others who work with endemic birds like the pueo remind people that the act of throwing trash on the ground not only impacts the environment visually but can have a direct and detrimental effect on wildlife like pueo.
Pueo are found on all of the main Hawaiian Islands, and on Oahu they are listed by the state as endangered. Specific population numbers are hard to come by. On Oahu, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife is developing study parameters for conducting an islandwide survey of the owl.
Friday, Raine’s wife Helen and daughter Maya watched as son Callum was given the honor of opening a cardboard carrier to let the rehabilitated pueo return to the wild.
On a country road near Kalaheo, under the watchful eye of Anderson, the 8-year-old slowly opened the box carrying the pueo and tipped it up. The bird looked around for a few seconds and then hopped out onto the road. It spent a few minutes fluffing its wings and surveying its territory before flying into the sunset.
Prior to its release, a metal band was put on one of its legs so it can be identified if it’s ever picked up again.
The owl’s fate is more positive than that of a pueo rescued by an Oahu family on a North Shore road earlier this year. A fracture in that bird’s wing was not going to heal properly and it would not be able to fly again, so it had to be put to sleep.