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Family gives hoot about injured owl

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By Damon Lawrence

Sixteen-year-old David Groves’ biggest brush with nature wasn’t on a recent camping trip, but on the ride back home.

Groves and his mother, Dawn Umphenour, were traveling on Duncan Hollow Road around dusk on Memorial Day when they came across a young barred owl in the middle of the pavement.

Wanting something to document the moment, Groves got out of the car to take a picture. He and his mother realized something was wrong when the owl didn’t make a move.

“The cars were coming down through there, and I was so afraid that he was going to get hit,” Umphenour said.

Instead of leaving it in the road, mother and son put the owl in their car and took it home.

“We just couldn’t leave it in the middle of the road,” Umphenour said.

Despite having a wild animal in the car, Groves said the ride was calm.

He put to use a pillow in the car from his camping trip.

“I put the pillow case over his eyes and laid him down on the pillow,” he said. “That way, he wouldn’t freak out. He was, like, as still as could be in the car.”   

“David held him the whole time,” Umphenour recalled.

The family cleaned out one of their dog crates so the owl would have a secure place to stay.

The owl, which had fluffy brown feathers and sharp black talons, seemed scared overnight but she could sense a change in its mood the next day.

“I think he knows we’re just trying to help him and to take care of him,” she said.

The family named it Gizmo after the furry little creature in the movie Gremlins.

Barred owls are common in the area. Umphenour said she checked with some wildlife rescue groups and was told the one they found was still a baby.
It had some trauma to its beak, but didn’t appear to have major injuries.

Umphenour said they were told to release the owl where it was found.

On June 1, they took it back to the spot on Duncan Hollow Road.

Umphenour took it out of the dog cage, and it flew back into the woods.     

“I was afraid he wasn’t going to leave, so I tried to lift him up and there he went,” she said. “I’m glad he’s back out there with his mom.”

Geri Wynn with the Wynnwood Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Elizabethton said if people ever take possession of a wild bird they should contact a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible.

“They will tell you what to do,” she said.

Wynn said people should also not give the animal anything to eat or drink.   

“The best thing to do is call a rehabilitator before you do anything,” she said.