The great horned owl looked like it lost an exhausting fight with basketball-rebound netting on the grounds of an Old Brookville home, its wings trussed up over its back.
“She was all rolled up by the net,” recalled housekeeper Alejandra Gonzalez, who spotted the bird when she drove up for work. “At first I thought it was a bunch of leaves.”
On Sunday, the bird of prey got her life back. After a two-week stay at the Volunteers for Wildlife hospital in Locust Valley, the adult female was released on the private grounds where she had gotten in trouble and where she had been a familiar figure in the past year.
“She was eating like a pig, and she got better and better,” said her rescuer Jim Jones, a board member of the wildlife nonprofit. “She takes off like a rocket and that’s it. She’s happy.”
For Jones, a veteran owl rescuer, it was a reminder of how suburbia — a place with basketball hoops, soccer nets and other human-made hazards in the open — can be dangerous for night hunters.
In bird circles, the great-horned owl has been called a “flying tiger,” muscling through leaves and branches as it flies through woods. When it meets resistance, it uses its strength to break free or forge ahead.
But when owls slam into netting, their brute strength works against them.
“They do what they normally do — they try to pull, slash and cut and they get more and more entangled,” said Jones, who suggested attaching colored streamers to nets as a warning to owls.
The Old Brookville owl, the fifth owl in 10 years that Jones has freed from nets, was probably intent on chasing its food at night when it flew into the rebound netting, Jones surmised.
When the rescuer responded the housekeeper’s call about the bird on the morning of Oct. 24, his first thought was “ugh” because the owl looked like its bones were broken.
Exhausted, the raptor issued a warning without moving.
“She gave me the death stare, like ‘Don’t you dare try to do anything,’ ” Jones recalled.
With a glove hand, he grabbed her legs. “When you get their legs, they calm down a little and stop fighting,” he said from experience.
With the other hand, he used scissors borrowed from Gonzalez to snip the nylon.
All the while, the bird made clicking sounds with its beak, an owl warning noise, and once in a while, she tried to rip a piece out of Jones with her beak.
“She didn’t get me, but she was trying,” he said.
It took a good half-hour to free the bird, with Gonzalez holding up the netting.
X-rays showed no broken bones in the bird’s 5 ½-foot wing span, Jones said, but the netting had bruised and cut into her tissue.
She recuperated in isolation at the nonprofit’s hospital, eating rats, he said. Her attitude was the usual bird of prey’s “leave me, feed me, don’t come near me,” Jones joked.
When Gonzalez had been helping Jones free the bird a couple weeks ago, she was at first afraid to get close to the owl, but was soon hypnotized by the creature, she said.
“I saw those huge eyes,” Gonzalez said, “I’m in love with those eyes, just the way it blinked. She kept looking straight at me all the time.”
And Gonzalez will never forget the moment the snipping freed the owl’s wings and she began flapping.
“I loved it when she finally got out of the net,” she said. “I loved the way she acted, feeling free and ready to go.”