“Mom’s got a clutch of babies to care for, and he’s got issues,” Reflection Riding Director of Wildlife Tish Gailmard said of the owl nibbling on her finger. “She doesn’t have time to deal with that — out you go. That’s nature. Survival of the fittest.”
With his crossed beak and searching eyes, Crossley is far from your average barred owl. After being discovered in the woods by an ATV rider who brought him to a local wildlife rehabilitator, the little owl came to join the Reflection Riding collection of animals with permanent injuries. In addition to his crossed beak, Crossley has glaucoma in both of his eyes, and is only able to react to light in his right eye and can make out shapes and forms in his left. He may simply seem inquisitive, but Crossley is constantly tilting and moving his head to focus that left eye. He is also mostly hand-fed, although some of his diet he eats on his own.
Photo by Mark McKnight
Barred owls and their distinctive call are a common presence in the southeast, and one that has been around for a long time. Barred owls very rarely migrate even short distances, and fossils from the Pleistocene era dated at least 11,000 years old have been discovered in Tennessee. The females are much larger than the males, as with most predatory birds, and so it is actually not yet possible to tell Crossley’s sex. Want to see one for yourself? Although Crossley is not out for the public to see, Reflection Riding does have a barred owl on exhibit.
While the on-exhibit animals are the ones you can see every day at the native animal exhibit, Reflection Riding has a plethora of animals behind-the-scenes. And although Crossley is an off-exhibit animal, that doesn’t mean you’ll never see him around! Once he matures he will start training to join the other off-exhibit animals in educational programs, teaching in the classroom and at Reflection Riding.
“If people come in and they have a particular interest in an animal that’s not on exhibit, as long as a wildlife staff person is here, we’ll either bring that animal to the visitor or potentially bring the visitor to the animal,” Gailmard said. “It depends on the animal. Because we want people to come and enjoy and have a really great experience and if they’re looking for a particular animal we want them to be able to see that animal.”
Photos by Bess Turner
While Crossley’s defects most likely occurred in the egg, many of the animals at Reflection Riding are there due to a permanent injury suffered due to human presence in nature. For predatory birds especially, it is important to remember the “apple core theory.” Although throwing an apple core (or any other fruit or food item) out the car window may seem fine as it will biodegrade, it can cause a chain of events harmful to animals. The fruit attracts rodents, the staple of an owl’s diet, and those rodents will bring the owl down to the side of the road and in danger of being hit by a car. Take Gailmard’s word for it: “Save it all and either compost it or get it in the garbage in a proper place. I think it’s really important for people to understand that what we do as humans affects wildlife. And you have to be mindful of that.”
About the Author
Bess Turner graduated from Tulane University in 2018 with a BA in English, Anthropology, and Environmental Studies, where she also worked for the Tulane Hullabaloo and the Undergraduate Student Government Sustainability Committee. When she's not writing for Reflection Riding you can find her on the mat, hiking, reading, and searching for the best veggie burger in Chattanooga.You can follow Bess on Instagram @bess_turner