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Forsyth County family, restaurant staff team up to aid injured owl

CUMMING — A relatively routine weekend night wound up anything but for a local family and restaurant staff, who days later are still marveling at how they came together in an attempt to save an injured owl on Market Place Boulevard.

Forsyth County resident Brian Anderson said he was leaving Tacos & Tequilas Mexican Grill in Cumming after dining with his family Friday night when his son and a friend dashed back in.

“He said, ‘Hey dad, there was an owl that got hit by a car out there,” Anderson recalled. “I went out there, [the owl] was lying on its back and was completely freaked out.”

Unsure exactly what to do, Anderson alerted employees of the eatery.

“I said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, and this is going to be kind of off the wall, but there is actually a pretty large owl outside of your restaurant,’” he said.

Carlos Suarez, a manager at the restaurant, said he and a group of employees put on thick dish-washing gloves so they could get close enough to assist the bird.

“He told us about it and he just wanted to [see if] we can maybe save it,” Suarez said. “We walked to the middle of the street, a friend of mine and a few guys from the restaurant and we put some gloves on and put it in the box for the gentleman.”

Anderson said that he doesn’t think most businesses would have responded so favorably — or quickly.

“What I thought was cool about it was that it was complete strangers that were helping each other out,” Anderson said. “A lot of companies, I don’t know if they would have done like Tacos and Tequilas’ people. Those people were really concerned about this owl.”

Suarez admitted it was far from a typical Friday night.

“I’ve never seen [anything like] it in my life before,” he said. “I’ve never actually seen a bird so big.”

Neither Suarez nor Anderson knew how the nocturnal bird of prey got injured, but the latter was able to find a veterinarian on a Friday night.  

“We were searching on our smartphones, and it just so happens that there is a 24-hour vet service on Hwy. 9,” Anderson said. “The lady said, ‘Bring him on down, we have a lady here who is the night vet who can take a look at him. She’s a raptor specialist.’ It’s dumb luck or something.”

A representative with the hospital said this week that it was her understanding the owl had not survived surgery to repair its broken wing.

Tim Keyes, a wildlife biologist with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, identified the raptor as a barred owl, which likely also suffered some internal damage in the collision.

While not a common occurrence in Forsyth County, he said, large birds getting struck by cars across the state is “not an unusual situation, unfortunately.”

“We fairly regularly get owls and hawks hit by cars, typically because we produce pretty good small mammal habitats on the edges of roads,” Keyes said.

“So if we keep mowed edges and medians of roads, you’re basically providing good habitats for mice and rats and snakes and lizards.”

Keyes doesn’t recommend picking up any birds of prey, as they can be defensive while injured. Even professionals, who he said to call in these types of situations, must use leather gloves and towels to handle them.

“You can be very well meaning, and you’re still a perceived threat,” he said. “If you know what you’re doing, they’re very easy to handle. But if you’re not aware of how to handle them, you can definitely get hurt pretty badly.”