Lee Ann Gilbert is very, very certain that she, with a lot of help from the Peninsula Humane Society's Wildlife Care Center in Burlingame, has saved the life of Arthur, a Western screech owl who lives in a tree near her home in Woodside. Saved Arthur's life, in fact, twice.
Arthur, Lee Ann says, lives in a tree not too far from her driveway, and her family often hears his nighttime hoots.
About two years ago, sometime past 10 p.m., her daughter, Jennifer Gilbert, had just turned up the driveway, when she heard a thump.
"She got out and there was a little screech owl lying there," Lee Ann says. Jennifer Gilbert brought the dazed owl to Lee Ann, who kept him warm overnight and called the Peninsula Humane Society in the morning.
Western screech owls are quite small, only 7 to 10 inches tall and weighing only 3 to 8 ounces. Male screech owls are smaller than females.
Lee Ann decided her owl was named Arthur and sent him off to the Wildlife Care Center with a note and a check "to help out" with the cost of his rehabilitation.
"I want you to know his name is Arthur," the note said, explaining that Lee Ann wanted to be kept up to date on Arthur's progress.
Weeks later, employees of the Wildlife Care Center returned the fully recovered owl and set him free near his home in the tree, with Lee Ann, her husband Bill, and a granddaughter looking on.
Before flying off, Arthur, Lee Ann swears, "swiveled his head around, and I think he smiled at me," she says. "He totally turned around and looked at us, and off he went up to his tree."
Fast forward to last November. Jennifer Gilbert was once again driving home, late, "getting ready to turn up our driveway, and bang," Lee Ann says. "There he was again."
Lee Ann firmly believes that her daughter encountered the same owl twice. At the Wildlife Care Center, they say they really can't tell, since their charges aren't banded or otherwise marked when they are returned to the wild. "Nobody else is sure, but I'm sure it's him," Lee Ann says.
In fact, the experts at the wildlife center say they aren't even sure if Arthur really ought to be call Annie. Determining the sex of a bird can be invasive, they say, and that's the last thing they want to do when they are hoping to return an animal to the wild.
When Jennifer brought Lee Ann an injured owl, again, Lee Ann says, "I held him in my hand and looked at him and said, 'You again!'" Lee Ann says that this time she knew to call the Wildlife Care Center directly without waiting until morning.
Once again, Lee Ann sent the little owl off with a note. "Sadly, after a day or so I got a call and they said they were going to have to euthanize him," Lee Ann says. "They said, 'He broke his femur, and we'd have to do an operation and we just don't have the funds.' I said, 'Oh yes, you do!'" Lee Ann offered to pay whatever it took to put Arthur together again.
"He's part of our family. He had to come back to his tree," she says.
Arthur had surgery on his femur at the Wildwood Veterinary Hospital in Portola Valley, where a tiny pin, the size of a finishing nail, was inserted into his leg. He returned to the the Wildlife Care Center, which nurses thousands of injured wild animals back to health each year, for rehabilitation.
Arthur healed quickly. His caregivers even reported that after just a few weeks, he pulled the pin out of his own leg. The leg healed enough that the experts at the Wildlife Care Center believed he could not only fly and perch, but could hunt for himself.
Once again, Arthur was set free near his tree.
How you can help
The Peninsula Humane Society's Wildlife Care Center in Burlingame, which is completely funded by donations, rehabilitates about 1,200 animals a year. The center serves the area from San Francisco through northern Santa Clara County, caring for sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.
The center also counsels residents on ways to co-exist with wildlife and treats animals impacted by environmental disasters such as oils spills.
The center can be reached to report a wild animal in distress by calling (650) 340-7022.
PHS-SPCA.org has more information and a link to make donations online. The center also accepts donations of mealworms, raw unsalted peanuts, dove seed, unsalted creamy peanut butter and spray millet to help feed its charges.