EAST BRADENTON - A Manatee County man gets a close encounter with a wild animal that turns out to be tamer than it should be. Murray Miller says it was a thrill and a disappointment at the same time.
“A bird of prey should never be that comfortable with humans coming close,” Miller says. He lives with birds, and knows enough that when a great horned owl screeching as it sat on the cage over his pool woke him and his wife up. “I started talking to the owl and the owl actually came to me,” he says.
Owls don't do that. Murray thought to to leave it alone, let it go. Feeding wildlife like owls can break the law. But when the bird came back that night, and again the next morning, he knew it needed him. “The owl was demonstrating almost like a crying noise,” he says.
By then he had called state wildlife officials, who put him in touch with Justin Matthews, a wildlife rehabilitator in Manatee County. Under his direction, Murray lured the owl into a cage, not to keep it, but to save it. “This guy right here is by far the tamest great horned owl that I have ever seen,” says matthews. “He probably don't even know how to hunt.”
He fears that whoever got him as a young chick did not consider that great horned owls can live for 40 years in captivity, that they need to eat prey with fur still on it (it's like their dietary fiber), and that forcing such a creature to live in a cage constitutes a form of cruelty. “They're not thinking of the bird. they're thinking of themselves,” Matthews says. “It's like arm candy, 'hey, look what I got.'”
Matthews is a falconer, has a permit to keep owls, and says this one will get to fly free on his land, but that , too used to humans now, it can never live totally free in the wild, which puts a chill in the thrill for Miller. “I'm very saddened that we had to take a beautiful animal like this, a majestic beautiful bird, and we're going to have to remove him from the wild now,” he says.
Matthews says that the person who had the owl lived somewhere near Miller's house, because the bird would not have flown that far from its home. He wants to find that person, not to get them in trouble, but to learn what conditions the bird lived in before it got to Miller's house.