When Leslie Carper glanced out the window of her Mount Vernon home Thursday morning, she saw something she said she had never seen in her suburban neighborhood: a bird of prey sitting on the sidewalk.
The chance sighting was one of many that would help save the starving barred owl, but the rescue would take four days, a host of concerned neighbors, a cherry picker and — perhaps most improbably — a set of towels.
“We figured it was probably injured,” Carper said of her and her neighbors’ reactions. “It flew up onto my roof and went to sleep all day. It was a tough flight for it.”
Carper didn’t know it at the time, but Fairfax County animal control officers had been receiving calls about the bird for two days. It had crashed into cars, signs and buildings in the area of Richmond Highway and Sacramento Drive, police said, but had eluded capture.
Carper also called animal control officers Thursday afternoon, but she said they declined to climb onto her roof because of safety concerns. Using a neighbor’s binoculars, she could see that something was wrong with one of the bird’s eyes.
Her next move: a visit to the local fire station.
“Do you want to climb a roof?” she recalled asking the firefighters.
They obliged, using a cherry picker to reach the roof of her two-story condominium building. As a firefighter got near the owl, Carper said, it flapped away.
Soon after, the bird crashed into the side of another building in the condominium community and fell onto a flight of steps, Carper said. The animal righted itself but weaved unsteadily. Carper ran to grab a box to trap it, but it had disappeared by the time she returned, she said.
Another opportunity presented itself the next day. The owl was spotted on a perch 20 feet above Richmond Highway at Sacramento Drive, Fairfax County police said.
There was one problem, according to police: The bird was clinging to a live power line.
Animal control officers couldn’t go near the wire, so they hit upon an unorthodox solution: They threw towels at the bird for an hour until one knocked it from its perch, police said.
The bird landed on a parking lot and was netted as onlookers gathered and snapped photographs, police said.
The bird was taken to the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia in Falls Church for care. Kent Knowles, the nonprofit organization’s president, said one of the bird’s eyes had been poked out some time ago but had healed. The other eye had cataracts. The owl, ill and malnourished, was essentially flying blind and could not hunt, he said.
“In 20-some years of doing this, I haven’t seen anything quite like this,” Knowles said. “I have no idea how it was surviving.”
The bird is expected to survive, Knowles said, but will probably have to live in captivity for the rest of its life. Knowles said barred owls are indigenous to the D.C. area.
Carper said she thinks the owl’s appearance in her neighborhood may not have been an accident.
“This might sound a little mystical,” she said. “I think wild animals seek out humans when they get desperate.”