After more than a month of rehabilitation, a pueo (Hawaiian Short-Eared Owl) was released last week on private ranch land in west Kaua‘i. The release site is near to where the young bird was rescued in late March and taken to the Save our Shearwaters facility at the Kaua‘i Humane Society, according to a news release from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Dr. Andre Raine of the Kaua‘i Endangered Seabird Recovery Project, spotted the bird struggling alongside the highway on March 22. Raine normally works with threatened and endangered seabirds, which given him a keen eye for all bird species. His wife and daughter watched, as his son was given the honor of opening a cardboard carrier to let the rehabilitated pueo return to the wild.
“After Dr. Raine brought the bird to us, we treated her head and eye injuries and a fractured radius in her left wing,” said Tracy Anderson of SOS. “On April 11th she was flown to the Hawai‘i Wildlife Center on the Big Island so that she could continue her rehabilitation in their large flight aviary. She healed up nicely and was flying so the wildlife center sent her back to us yesterday for release.”
Anderson theorizes the young pueo was hit by a car. Owls are often attracted to roadsides by rats and mice, which in turn are attracted by the easy pickings of food scraps and rubbish discarded by people. Anderson and others who work with endemic birds like the pueo remind people that the act of throwing trash on the ground not only impacts the environment visually but also can have a direct and detrimental effect on wildlife like pueo.
Pueo are found on all of the main Hawaiian Islands and on Oah‘u they are listed by the state of Hawai‘i as endangered. Specific population numbers are hard to come by. On O‘ahu, the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife is currently developing study parameters for conducting an islandwide survey of the owl. The pueo is one of the more famous of the various physical forms assumed by ʻaumākua (ancestor spirits) in Hawaiian culture.
On a country road, near Kalāheo, 8-year-old Callum Raine, under the watchful eye of Anderson, slowly opened the box carrying the pueo and tips it up. The bird looked around for a few seconds and then hoped out onto the road. It then spent a few minutes fluffing its wings and surveying the territory before flying off into sunset.
Prior to its release a metal band with a unique identifying number was put on one of its legs so it can be identified if it’s ever picked up again.
Earlier this year, a pueo rescued by an O‘ahu family on a North Shore road had a fracture in its wing. According to DLNR, the fracture was not going to heal properly, and the pueo would not be able to fly again, so it was euthanized.