Owls Do Not Enjoy Joy Rides

The do’s and don’ts of helping injured owls.

Earlier this month, a pair of Florida men went on a booze-fueled joy-ride . . . with a Great Horned Owl they had found on the side of the road. The video quickly went viral.

The federally protected bird wasn’t in on the fun. “The bird appeared to be stunned,” says Matt Smith, eagle watch coordinator at the Audubon Center For Birds of Prey who handles raptors on a daily basis. “Typically an adult Great Horned Owl is not going to tolerate being close to a human.”

This particular owl likely only acted calm because it was hurt (which is how the guys captured it in the first place). While this video is basically a PSA for what not to do in such a situation, here is a cheat sheet for what to do should you find an injured owl.

DON’T Keep the owl—it’s illegal to have a Great Horned Owl in your possession unless you are transporting it to a rehab center. (While the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced last Friday that they won’t be charged by the state, the driver will be charged with a misdemeanor in federal court, thanks to the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.)

DON’T Ignore the bird. The men claimed that they let the injured bird go the next day—which means it likely still needs help.

DO Call a licensed rehabilitator.  

DO Place a cardboard box over the owl. Slide a second piece of cardboard under the bird—“sort of like the way that you would catch spider,” says Smith. If you don’t have a box, place a blanket over the bird, and grab hold of its feet. That should keep the owl safe until it reaches a rehab center.

DON’T Pet the owl. It causes them extreme stress. (This is also the argument against owl cafes.)

DO Keep an eye on the owl’s beak and feet—for your own safety. Especially its feet: “Getting bit by an owl is not fun, but its not going to put you in the ER,” says Smith. “Getting badly footed by one could. They are very powerful birds that are very well armed.” 

Editor's Note: This article has been updated to refect new information—that the driver of the vehicle will be charged with a misdeamor in federal court.