Tampa Bay Times

Rehabilita­ted owl escapes from leash, worrying handlers

- BY MELISSA GOMEZ Times Staff Writer Contact Melissa Gomez at mgomez@tampabay.com. Follow @melissagom­ez004.

CLEARWATER — Squeaky took flight before his big festival debut, disappeari­ng into the trees before his handlers could catch him.

Barbara Walker suspects it’s because, at 10 months old, he was entering the teenage phase for owls.

“Basically he’s a teenager on the loose,” said Walker, bird of prey manager for the Clearwater Audubon Society. She was there Wednesday morning at the Moccasin Lake Nature Park when Squeaky managed to escape from his leash.

He took off, disappeari­ng just days before he was going to represent his species, great horned owls, in the Clearwater Audubon Society’s Owl-O-Ween this weekend.

He was rescued in January after the tree that housed his nest fell. His eyes were still closed and his feathers still fuzzy. He received his name, Walker said, because of the sound he made as an owlet.

But when he was about 6 weeks old, Squeaky caught an infection, causing a pupil to shrink and limiting sight in his left eye. Veterinari­ans declared him unfit for release. Clearwater Audubon Society volunteers cared for him daily.

He became the designated educationa­l ambassador for his species because Lulu, the other great horned owl, can be testy.

“He’s a good boy,” Walker said. “He’s a little calmer than she is.”

Squeaky was on his way to a presentati­on Wednesday when one of his talons managed to undo a knot that held him to a leash. He flew up to the trees while his handler, the same one who rescued him, watched from below. Other wild birds, which don’t like owls, began to dive bomb Squeaky, who flew over to Cliff Stephens Park, the last place he was spotted.

“He’s not a danger to the public,” said Walker, while adding that his handlers were worried about his safety. “He might not be able to catch live prey.”

Squeaky also runs the risk of running into power lines, cars or other birds that are territoria­l.

While great horned owls aren’t weak by any stretch — Walker compared Squeaky to an aerial tiger in the sky — she’s worried he might starve, or run into a human-made danger.

She’s hoping someone spots or hears him. Great horned owls have deeper sounding calls than his, and Squeaky is visibly different because of his shrunken pupil, white anklets and the hanging jesses that had connected to the leash.

If Squeaky doesn’t show up before today, his cagemate Lulu will have to take on the role as ambassador, Walker said.

“Lulu’s going to have to step it up.”

 ?? Clearwater Audubon Society ?? If you think you see or hear Squeaky the owl, contact the Clearwater Audubon Society at (727) 798-2385.
Clearwater Audubon Society If you think you see or hear Squeaky the owl, contact the Clearwater Audubon Society at (727) 798-2385.
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