Injured owl rescued by middle school teacher in Bensalem, PA

BENSALEM, Pa. (WPVI) -- Cecelia Snyder Middle School is home to the Owls. But special education teacher Elisa Cohen never thought she'd see a real one on school property.

"I was sitting in my classroom. All I could hear were these crows squawking and they were relentless," she said.

Cohen walked outside into the courtyard to discover a tiny Saw-Whet Owl was under attack by the group of crows, which is fittingly called a "murder."

"It obviously landed there for a reason, you know, maybe it was fate that it knew we would take care of it," she said.

With the help of additional school staff, such as Band Director Susan Hinson, the owl was safely transported to Aark Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center in Chalfont, PA.

"He's definitely got a headache," said Leah Stallings, the center's Executive Director.

The owl could have moderate-to-severe head trauma. It also has visible damage done to its right wing and right eye.

"If you find a bird of prey, or an owl, or any wild animal, it's important to get in touch with a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible," said Stallings.

If not for the swift and appropriate action instructed by the professionals at Aark, the owl may not have survived.

After days or weeks of careful examination and rehabilitation, the owl may be eligible to be released into the wild. If it cannot fly or see with both eyes, it will not be able to survive on its own. In that scenario, it would be adopted into the education program at Aark for the remainder of its life.

The owl does not currently have a name, but perhaps it may take the name of the Cecelia Snyder Middle School mascot, "Hoot." Its gender is currently unidentifiable, but it is an adult despite its diminutive appearance.

Stallings says owls are not rare in the Bucks County area. Many migrate through the nearby Peace Valley Park during December and January.

"I feel that it's a little bit unusual to be having him this early," she said. "But I can't count anything out this year."

It's been a difficult yet rewarding year for Aark Wildlife Center. Its founder, Mary Jane Stretch, passed away in January.

"She was very proud of the team we put together," Leah Stallings said about Mary Jane Stretch, who is also her mother. "She got to see this beautiful new building be built."

Stretch created the wildlife center when Stallings was just a child.

"This is something that I think I was born to do," Stallings said. "And I will continue on in my mother's footsteps."

Shortly after losing her mother, Stallings faced a new challenge: the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite limited staff and increased safety precautions, she needed more help than ever before.

"We see around 5,000 patients on a normal year," she said. "This year, with the pandemic, we actually have seen over 7,200 animals this year."

Stallings credits the uptick to an increase in home projects and greater attention paid to nature during the isolated days of the pandemic. But the true cause is unknown.

To learn more about Aark Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center or to donate, visit their website.

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