John and I decided to eat out tonight, and on our way home the most amazing thing happened. We were about to turn into our driveway when we saw something in the road that looked like a bunny (there're lots of desert cottontails out here), but it wasn't moving away from the car. We could see eyes reflecting the headlights, but it was an odd shape - so John stopped and I got out to investigate.
It was two little owls (on post-hoc analysis we believe them to have been Western Screech Owls like the one pictured above, but we originally hypothesized burrowing or elf owls, because they were so little). As I approached, I realized that one was standing in front of the other, between it and our car - and she was glaring at the headlights. I got close enough to touch her before she flew away, but she ultimately (begrudgingly) did. Her friend didn't move. I could see that this remaining owl was standing with his eyes closed, and he was kind of wavering from side to side a little bit. So, I knew something was wrong. I reached out to touch him, and he still didn't move - so I knew something was VERY wrong.
I went back to the car and got my coat, and wrapped him up in it and carried him out of the road and into the house. I could see he had a small wound on his shoulder - it was a little bloody, but not spectacular. And I suspected the worst - that he'd been hit by a car or something, and that he was not long for this world.
But he was breathing steadily, and very much alive in his little coat-bundle. His eyes were closed, and he occasionally made a little warble in his throat, but he didn't seem to be aware of his surroundings or anything. As I watched him, I couldn't keep myself from stroking his feathers - and he was so incredibly soft it was as if he was made of smoke. Hence his name, as John noted, must be Smokey.
John got a shoebox and towel so we could wrap him up and keep him in the dark to try to reduce his stress level, and then John got on the phone to, first, Pima Animal Control who sent us to a Wildlife Help Line that didn't pick up or return our call. Then we called our own emergency vet, who sent us to the Valley Animal Hospital. They apparently have an agreement with 'Forever Wild', a wildlife rehabilitation organization, so they told us to bring the owl to them and they would ensure that he got to the right people.
When we tried to move him from the coat to the towel/shoebox, we found that he was gripping my coat in his little (but actually pretty intimidating) talons. So we ended up kind of laying him in the open box, still wrapped in the coat, without a lid or anything. When we got into the car to go to the vet, I shifted the coat and to our great surprise Smokey flitted out of the box and flew across to grip the inside of the driver's side door. Now he was definitely aware of his surroundings, and he was frightened. John was able to wrap him in the towel again, though, and eventually he let go of the door handle - leaving little talon marks as a souvenir of our adventure.
We got him back into his box, with the towel around him to keep him calm, and drove him to the Animal Hospital, where they ushered him into an enclosure where he will spend the night before being picked up by the rehab people. That he was able to fly and grip so well makes us optimistic that he's going to be OK.
But we're very sad for his little friend. Apparently, Western Screech Owls mate for life, and we're guessing that the brave little bird who stood guard to prevent him from being hit by our car was his mate. And she must be very sad and frightened. We have no idea how he got injured, or whether they might have had babies nearby. There's a whole lot more going on out here in the desert than we humans ever see or know about, and I just hope that right now there's not a separate tragedy unfolding for Smokey's family.