COLUMBIA – Chester, a popular and nearly blind barred owl used in school presentations, escaped from her home Sunday at the Raptor Rehabilitation Project with the MU College of Veterinary Medicine.
Chester was last seen between 3 and 3:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon at the far side of Rockhill Park, still wearing her leather straps, anklet, and a swivel but without her leash. Chester escaped that afternoon while she was being acclimated to a new staff member.
“Our main concern is that her straps, which are designed to give the trainer control over her sharp talons, could get caught up in the trees. We are afraid that she is caught somewhere, hanging upside down.” said Christina Bure, a master’s student who worked with Chester at the rehabilitation center. “The handler wasn’t at fault. Chester took off very strongly and at an awkward angle that caused her straps to unravel. We were able to track her for about three hours before we finally lost track of her in the park. ”
Watch a video of Chester (and see more at the end of the story):
Chester, who could not be returned to the wild due to her blindness, was made an education bird because of her sweet and calm personality and is the only such bird at the rehabilitation project that is completely capable of flight. “Each of our birds has its own temperament, and Chester was very easy going and friendly,” Bure said. Chester frequented elementary schools and took part in Columbia’s Earth Day and Twilight festivals.
Chester is believed to be a female based on her size. She was brought to the Raptor project in late 2006 with a broken scapula and was left partially to almost completely blind by the trauma of what was assumed to be a traffic accident.
“Because their eyes are fixed and quite large, owls are quite susceptible to vision trauma. Chester has one completely detached retina, and the other is only partially attached,” Bure said.
Raptor staff said it is unknown if Chester can survive in the wild. “Hawks have been known to be able to free themselves from their equipment, but I don’t know if owls can,” Bure said. “We think she has at least some ability to hunt. She has excellent hearing, but as you might expect, vision is very important to an owl. She has at least enough sight to be able to land on perches.”
Owls held in captivity do not often hoot, but it is possible that Chester will begin to do so in the wild. The call of the barred owl is usually eight hoots ending in oo-aw.
“It sounds like they are saying ‘Who, who, who cooks for you!’” Bure said. “We would like to see Chester returned as soon as possible” said Bure. “Our staff misses her very much, and we can’t imagine not having her around.”
The Raptor Rehabilitation Project is an organization that works to rehabilitate and release birds-of-prey as well as educate students and the general public about these birds. The center is run by students from various schools throughout the university as well as by volunteers from the local community.
If you spot Chester or have any information regarding her whereabouts, please contact the College of Veterinary Medicine’s small animal hospital immediately at 882-7821 or call 882-4589 after 5 p.m. and on weekends.