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October 7, 2021

Swooping in to Help: Pulama Lanai Rescues Injured Pueo

The pueo is a short-eared owl that’s native to Hawaii. It tends to be most active at dusk and dawn, gliding low to the ground to scoop up mice and small critters. Due to its flying habits, pueo sometimes have run-ins with cars, and when they do, Pulama Lanai’s conservation department steps in to help. Along with other native animals, the pueo is protected and rescued by the team, and they recently helped save a bird in trouble.

Rescue and Rehabilitation

A good Samaritan saw an owl sitting on the side of Manele road and reported it to Dr. Rachel Sprague, director of conservation at Pulama Lanai. The passerby carefully put the bird in a box and brought him over to Sprague, who examined his injuries. The owl was in poor shape, appearing very thin with a swollen-shut eye, bleeding in its mouth, and hyperthermia – all signs of trauma consistent with a car collision. “It was looking listless and what we would call ‘depressed,’” explained Sprague.

After a night of fluids, a heating pad and rest in a dark room, the bird perked up a little. One day later, the pueo was stable enough to be transported by the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary to the Big Island for rehabilitation with the Hawaii Wildlife Center (HWC). There, they have a specialized veterinary hospital and facility to thoroughly examine animals, treat them and rehabilitate patients for release back into the wild.

Upon further examination, the HWC discovered that the Lanai pueo had head trauma and a broken collar bone. He spent the next six weeks being treated for his injuries while getting fed and regaining his strength.

Returning Home to Lanai

The ongoing care by the HWC and consistent mice feedings helped the pueo gain his weight back. Since owls don’t fly long distances over water, the Coast Guard went back to the center to pick up the bird and transported him back to Lanai for release. While picking up the pueo, the Coast Guard dropped off Pulama Lanai’s 50th patient – an injured uau (Hawaiian Petrel) from Lanai for intake.

“There were a lot of birds that day,” Sprague said with a laugh. “A lot of driving to the airport.”

The Pulama team took the pueo back to his home near Twin Peaks. On the dirt road, after the cover of his carrying crate came off, he sat there for a while, uncertain of his next step. After a little bit of coaxing from the Pulama staff, the pueo took off flying, perched on a nearby tree, and turned its head to give one final look at its rescuers.

Reporting Downed Owls

The pueo is Hawaii’s only native owl and can be found throughout our islands. While Oahu is the only island that lists the pueo as an endangered species, the number of pueo on all islands seems to be declining. Its piercing yellow eyes and brown body distinguish it from the introduced barn owl who has dark eyes and a white, heart-shaped face. Pueo hunting habits are a little different, and they can often be spotted during the day.

“They like to fly over open fields looking for mice, rats, and small birds, so that leads them to fly over roads too, which can lead to collisions with cars.” Other common injuries occur due to collisions with barbed wire fences or power lines. Pueo will also get sick after consuming mice or rats that have eaten rodenticide.

Residents can help Pulama Lanai’s efforts to restore native species populations by reporting any animals who appear to be sick or injured to the department at 808-563-0013. We can also all do our part by watching out for birds while driving and using owl-friendly or covered mouse traps outdoors.

We recognize the proper use of the Hawaiian language including the ‘okina [‘], a consonant, and the kahakō [ō] or macron (e.g., in place names of Hawai‘i such as Lāna‘i). However, these have been omitted from this website for the best online experience for our visitors. We realize the importance and continue to use them outside of the online platform.

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