As the setting sun cast a golden glow over a field near the Longview Lake marina, Lakeside Nature Center Director Kimberly Hess released a great horned owl from her gloved hands, and it flew westward to perch in a tree line.
“It is amazing,” said Hess, whose staff helped the raptor recover after a Jackson County Park Ranger brought it to her May 21. “It brings tears to my eyes every time, to see these majestic birds have a second chance at life.”
The owl had completed a two-month rehabilitation stay at Lakeside, where she got a chance to rest her injured wing and regain her strength with proper food and water. Lakeside rescues dozens of birds of prey annually.
Tom Brown, the park ranger who helped capture the 18-inch-tall bird with a five-foot wingspan and transported it to Lakeside, was present for the release, as was Karen Davis, the nature lover and photographer who first noticed the big bird on the ground, in distress.
Davis of Lee’s Summit, was at Longview Lake Park the morning of May 21 when she noticed the owl sitting on the ground, seemingly in distress and being “dive-bombed” by smaller birds. Fearing it had a broken wing, she called the park rangers station and kept an eye on the owl while Brown consulted with wildlife authorities and then brought a dog cage to the site. Davis, Brown and a third person “triangulated” the bird before Brown caged it and drove it to Lakeside.
“I carry a dog kennel,” Brown explained. “We do a lot of animal-control calls. It’s part of our job to be the first responder.”
Capturing an owl, however, was a first in Brown’s three-and-one-half-year career with Jackson County Parks + Rec.
“I was glad to be a part of the process,” Brown said. “To see the healing and rehabilitation and then see these animals placed back in their natural habitat is the most important thing.”
Hess said the owl apparently had a “soft-tissue injury” and not a broken wing bone. It was stressed and dehydrated when Brown brought it to the nature center in Swope Park. After much loving care, starting with rest, rehydration and “tweezer feeding” and progressing to practice flying and hunting in Lakeside’s enclosed avian area, Hess was confident the bird would find its way back to its nest near Longview Lake.
“I would assume she still has a mate in the area,” Hess said. “Owls mate for life.”