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An owl's adventure: Union High maintenance worker/wildliferescuer Jack Aldrich dodges a flurry of flapping wings as a stuck owlet suddenly becomes unstuck from a school drainpipe.  ().
An owl's adventure: Union High maintenance worker/wildliferescuer Jack Aldrich dodges a flurry of flapping wings as a stuck owlet suddenly becomes unstuck from a school drainpipe. ().

Story and photos

by Chris Baxter of The Observer

Due to my connections in high places at Union High School (a brother teaches math on the second floor), I received some firsthand information about a breaking story there: some barn owlets were living in the trees on the school grounds.

Stop the presses! Cute little owls. I know a photo-op when I hear one.

Rushing out to the school, I soon found myself looking high up into the leafy canopy of some big trees searching for cute little balls of fluffy


No luck.

Fortunately, a high school maintenance worker, Jack Aldrich, arrived and was familiar with the more likely spots they hung out due to where he's found them on the ground.

You see, apparently young barn owls are much like any other young birds in that they master the art of falling much quicker than the art of flying. Hence, the maintenance crew at the high school has found its job duties recently expanded to include some minor wildlife rescue operations.

But after more searching, still no sight of our cute little friends.

And then it occurred to Aldrich to check one of the school's drain pipes. Again.

As Aldrich explained, "They generally stay up in the trees here now, but their original nest was on top of this drain pipe and they seem to like going back home to their roots."

Unfortunately, a little too far down those roots as they end up falling into the drain pipe, becoming a feathered cork.

A quick survey of the pipe and, sure enough, little fluffs of juvenile feathers could be seen protruding from a crack several feet down from the top of the drain.

Quickly bringing a ladder, Aldrich opened the crack, which turned out to be a little custom door in the pipe apparently made for previous such rescues.

The little door was barely opened when suddenly something that definitely didn't qualify in my mind as a baby bird, let alone cute, burst out of its confining space in an explosion of flapping feathers.

Cute little owl, my foot.

I may have trouble identifying my hawks and ospreys, but I think I know a pterodactyl when I see one.

I barely had time to snap off a picture before my scaredy cat-like reflexes avoided its sudden veering dive directly at me, its talons almost strafing the top of my thankfully hatted head, on its way to a semi-smooth


After a brief pause to savor its new-found freedom, the "owl" managed to make another short, wobbly, 2-foot cruising altitude flight across a side street.

I maintained a discreet telephoto lens-distance while Aldrich circled the displaced owl and calmly herded it back to the base of its tree where it promptly scrambled up to a safe, comfortable perch.

Once settled I asked if he ... her ... it was going to stick around for the school year, but its only reply was a surprisingly savvy evasion of the question.


Whereupon it promptly struck an oh-so-innocent "cute little owl" pose and prepared for a nap.

As for the profound implications of this incident, they should be obvious. First, it proves once and for all false the old adage "you can never go home again."

But it also shows that you should be careful if you try because you might just end up at the bottom of some sort of drain pipe.

Something to think about.

Or not.

Either way, all's well that ends well, and hopefully the owl is a little wiser.

But then, I could have sworn that before nodding off completely, the little wise guy gave me a knowing wink as if the whole adventure was a joke on me.

Oh well, I can think of far worse reputable forms of wildlife I've been schooled by.


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