EVERETT — Gregg Martin was at work detailing a boat Wednesday afternoon when he noticed a tussle in a nearby treetop.
A heron was clashing with another bird in a pine tree at Jetty Landing Park, where the ferry leaves for Jetty Island.
As Martin looked closer, he realized a great horned owl was stuck in the tree. The heron flew off, but the big brown owl, with distinctive “horns” of darker feathers on its head, was trapped. Some kind of cord, maybe heavy duty fishing line or kite string, was wrapped around the owl’s right wing and tangled in the narrow, spindly branches of the pine. The owl perched about 30 feet up with his wing stretched out and nearly immobile. The bird struggled but couldn’t break free.
It took tree-climbing equipment, a white sheet, an animal carrier, a big black net and a duo of animal rescuers, but about three hours after Martin spotted it, the owl was out of the tree and on its way to a veterinarian at Sarvey Wildlife Center in Arlington.
Martin had to head back to work and didn’t see the rescue play out, but he left hoping for the best.
“Such a pretty bird,” said Martin, who owns Gregg’s Detailing and often works near Jetty Landing. “I’d hate to see him get wasted.”
Kate Bouchard, a recent University of Washington graduate and an intern at Sarvey, arrived at the park with the animal carrier, towels, sheets and the knowledge to handle the bird. Not long after, Shaun Sears, with Canopy Cat Rescue, showed up with equipment and the expertise to get up the tree.
Sears sized up the pine: skinny with a lot of branches in the way. He put on a black helmet and fastened a belt loaded with climbing gear around his waist. He started up the tree and anchored himself with a length of sturdy rope, then continued climbing. Branches rattled and some fell to the ground as he ascended.
Bouchard watched, ready to help contain the owl if it fell. She wanted to take the bird to Sarvey as quickly as possible.
“Our vet is coming today, so (the owl) will get in and go straight back for care,” she said.
The owl sat stoically until Sears got close. It spooked as he worked to free it and escaped its higher perch. It landed on a lower branch in a neighboring tree, looking dazed.
Sears quickly lowered himself out of the first tree and grabbed a big black net. He lengthened the net’s handle until it could reach the 15 feet or so up to the owl.
The bird startled again when the net was brought near. It landed on the ground and hopped into the parking lot, still tangled in the line. Its right wing stretched out awkwardly. About a dozen people who had gathered to watch the rescue scattered as Sears and Bouchard called out for everyone to get back.
They netted the owl in the parking lot, loosely wrapped it in a sheet and eased it into the gray animal carrier.
The crowd breathed a sigh of relief. A few people clapped.
Sears told Bouchard he’d like an update on the owl as it heals, and she promised to let her boss at Sarvey know. Then she loaded the owl into her car and he put away his equipment.
Sears and his team handle rescues of cats in trees all over the state. He met the folks from Sarvey at an event and now the center calls for help with some rescues.
“Predominantly, we rescue cats, but we’ve done parrots, iguanas, kites,” Sears said. “Obviously, animals like this (owl) are a priority.”
Sarvey has a lot of barn owls at the center but this is the first great horned owl they’ve brought in since early this summer, when they cared for two owl chicks that recently were released, Bouchard said. She studied wildlife conservation at UW and learned to handle raptors at Sarvey. They see a lot of birds with wing injuries, head trauma or gunshot wounds.
She wasn’t able to tell the sex or age of the owl right away, only that it was an adult great horned owl. Parkgoers told her the owl has been seen flying or perched around the park in the past few weeks. Bouchard hopes the bird can be released there once it heals.
Martin, who first spotted the owl, said he would be waiting on news. He wasn’t sure if someone would come when he called for a rescue.
“It’s nice that someone gave a hoot,” he said.