Baby Owl Gets Lucky

And smart. He picks the right front porch to go tummy up
BY: JOHN DOOLITLLE

When you live in Baja, you’re used to seeing a certain amount of wildlife. Sea lions swimming in the marina, rays leaping out of the water, even goats and cows strolling along the highway. What you don’t expect is hosting a baby owl as your houseguest.

But that’s exactly what happened to Tres Watson. He and his parents own one of the 10 homes that sit on the greens of the Cabo San Lucas Country Club golf course. Much of the area is still undeveloped so there’s a fair amount of wildlife around.

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Tres and his family high tail it back to the States during hurricane season, and did the same this year. The house was boarded up and Tres was already back in the U.S. when he had to make a last-minute business trip back down to Cabo.

Tres had just arrived at the house when he saw a baby owl spread out on his doorstep, flopped on his back with its feet in the air. Tres assumed he was dead but, as soon as he opened the door, the owl sprang to life and just walked right into the house, like he owned the place.

Tres could see that one of the bird’s wings was broken, and being an animal lover, let the owl stay in the house. The owl spent an hour or so sizing Tres up and, once he decided Tres could be trusted, the owl hopped up onto the couch where he was watching TV, and took up residence on Tres’ finger. He stayed there for the rest of the day, mostly sleeping but occasionally waking up to nibble on the chunk of ham Tres had given him. Tres named the bird Little Finger, partially because of his size (he’s about the size of a large mouse) and his claim on Tres’ finger, and partially inspired by a Game of Thrones character who is small but crafty and has somehow managed not to die (much like the bird).

Tres put a call out on the Cabo Expats Facebook page, asking if anyone knew how to care for an injured owl, and was directed to the Baja Equine Vet Center in San Jose. Although they have equine in their name, the center will rehab all kinds of animals. Dr. Joshua Estevez drove to Cabo to check out Little Finger, confirming that he had indeed managed to break a wing, and took him back to the clinic, where they inserted a metal splint into Little Finger’s wing so it would heal properly.

He was put on a diet of quail, Vitamin Water and some mild pain killers, and responded to treatment immediately, becoming more alert and active. A little too active, in fact. Cameras at the clinic recorded him flying around the confined quarters at night, and they had to reset the splint. (Hey! Flying is an owl thing. Fish gotta swim, owls gotta fly).

For now, he will spend his nights in a cage, and during the day they are encouraging him to spend time in trees, because otherwise he might think he's a ground animal, which would make him someone’s snack once he’s back in the wild. But fingers are still one of his favorite spots, along with a toy wooden horse.

According to Dr. Estevez, Little Finger couldn’t have picked a better time to break his wing. Because of his young age, he will grow a lot in the next few months, which means his body will use the calcium from his diet to help heal the broken bone. Little Finger, who is an endangered Mexican Baja grey spotted pygmy owl, will spend about two months rehabbing at the clinic, and then another two or three months slowly being reintroduced into the wild; he’ll be in a confined space so the vet team can keep an eye on him and teach him to hunt. After that, he will be released to try and make it on his own.

Tres has visited Little Finger several times at the clinic, and plans on visiting again when he returns to Cabo in October. And he hopes that Little Finger will come back and visit him at his house once he’s out in the wild. Dr. Estevez said that’s not uncommon, especially when animals bond with humans so early on. But for now, Tres is just happy, and a bit amazed, that Little Finger found his way to his doorstep at just the right time. “It’s almost like he knew I was coming,” Tres says, “because an hour later or an hour earlier, it wouldn’t have been a rescue situation, it would have been a cleanup situation.” After finding Little Finger, Tres spotted the neighborhood cats sniffing around the spot where the bird had been laying; Little Finger was very close to becoming Pile Of Feathers.