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Young Owls released at Silver Saddle Ranch

by Susie Vasquez, Appeal Staff Writer
Rescued from Fallon in May, this barn owl was severely dehydrated when delivered to the Wild Animal Infirmary for Nevada. It was one of three released back into the wild late Monday at Silver Saddle Ranch.
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Four young barn owls got their first real taste of freedom late Monday, released into the wild at Silver Saddle Ranch in Carson City after being nursed back to health at Wildlife Animal Infirmary for Nevada.

Nancee Goldwater, an animal control officer at the Douglas County Animal Control, conducts the releases. She’s been working with Nancy Laird, owner and founder of the Infirmary, for 20 years.

“This is very rewarding,” she said. “It gives you an awesome feeling, knowing you’ve had a small part in getting these animals back into the wild.”

One of the owls released Monday was about 4-6 weeks old when turned over to Laird by the Nevada Department of Wildlife in May. The bird came in with a larger sibling, and that owl was released in Verdi on Aug. 8.

“Some people had them for at least a week or two before we got them and they were malnourished,” Laird said. “They were ‘downies’ when I got them, but now they’re fully grown and feathered — a good weight and size.”

Laird first nurses the owls in smaller indoor cages, then moves them to a larger outdoor pen, where they hone their flying skills. They aren’t released until they’ve learned to hunt.

“We release them in rural areas, where there no problems with people shooting birds,” said Suzette Feilen, Laird’s assistant at the Infirmary. “The prey base is a factor, so we spread them out in different areas, like Fallon and Verdi.”

These four owls will readily disperse, Laird said.

A registered nurse, Laird has been rehabilitating birds of prey from her home in Washoe Valley since 1977 and said she had a bumper crop of barn owls, more than 30 this year. She specializes in large birds of prey, including red-tailed hawks, kestrel falcons.

She was working in Michigan when she started taking in wildlife. That was 46 years ago.

“Back then, no one knew anything about treating wildlife,” she said. “The pediatricians helped me some, but anyone who showed an interest in these animals was considered weird.”

The infirmary receives animals from a number of public entities including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Audubon Society and local animal control agencies. Veterinarians now do the examinations, diagnoses and surgeries and an ophthalmologist treats eye problems.

“It’s a 365-day-a-year job,” Feilen said.

For more information or if you find an injured bird, contact Laird at 849-0345. Nancee Goldwater can be reached at the Douglas County Animal Control, 782-9061 or at her home, 267-2197. For more information, contact the Infirmary Web Site, http://www.waifnv.org.