John and Deb Schlichting arrived home Sunday night and settled in for what they thought would be a peaceful evening at home.

It wasn’t to be.

Deb had just started a fire in the fireplace when she noticed movement deep inside the box and spotted an owl. The bird flew out as she ran to the basement to get John. When they got back to the living room, the only evidence of the owl was a trail of burnt aroma. Together they searched.

“We couldn’t find him, but there was a distinct burnt hair smell,” John said.

Finally, John caught sight of the owl in a mirror in a back bedroom of their North Hill home. One side of his body appeared singed. They readied a storage tote. John approached the bird and snatched it with his hands.

The Pendleton Police Department connected the couple with Blue Mountain Wildlife, a Pendleton organization that rehabilitates wild birds. Soon, John was on his way to the compound.

Blue Mountain Wildlife Director Lynn Tompkins examined the little western screech owl and noticed his head appeared singed and that he’d lost feathers.

“He’s missing most of the secondary feathers on his left wing,” Tompkins said.

She also suspected the adult owl was experiencing eye and lung irritation, but said the bird is fortunate to have escaped with only minor damage. However, the missing feathers won’t grow back for months.

“He only molts once a year,” Tomkins said “He won’t get new feathers until next spring or summer.”

Until then, the owl will stay with other injured, orphaned or sick birds that inhabit the Blue Mountain Wildlife compound.

On Monday morning, Tompkins lifted the bird out of the carrier and handed him to her husband, Bob. The owl looked at Tompkins with round, unblinking eyes as she injected him with an anti-inflammatory drug. To insure that he was hydrated, she filled a syringe with saline solution and sent the liquid through a tiny tube that she inserted into the bird’s mouth and to the stomach. She wrapped him in a clean towel and placed him back into his carrier.

The owl’s appetite is good, she said. He polished off two mice since he arrived and weighs a hefty (for a screech owl) 200 grams, or about half a pound.

Tompkins said this isn’t the first bird found in a fireplace, though the birds usually fly out before the fire is lit. Owls often nest inside abandoned squirrel or woodpecker cavities, man-made nest boxes and the occasional chimney.

Turns out the owl alerted the Schlichtings to a problem with their chimney. A recent wind storm had knocked down the spark arrestor which normally would have kept the owl out and the sparks from escaping.

“As quick as the roof is safe to get back on,” John said, “I will get up there and replace it.”

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.

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