The first part of an interesting memory from Brian Firth who lives in Guiseley.
Olly the Owl (Part 1)
I was probably about 11 years old when I found Olly, which would make it around 1958
A friend and myself were walking home from Esholt woods and as we came along Ghyll Royd in Guiseley I saw what looked like a bundle of fluff ahead of us on the footpath.
It suddenly moved and I saw 2 big round eyes looking at us. It was a baby Tawny Owl. It was bleeding from the nostrils and the beak had a small crack in it. It looked very weak, too tired to even be frightened of us.
We looked around the trees in the area but there were no signs of any nest or adult owls. So I did what any kid of 11 would do, I picked him up and took him home.
The local vets were closed so we just put him in a cardboard box, gave him some water, and went to bed. My mum and dad warned me that he would probably die during the night.
I jumped up in the morning and ran down to the coalhouse which seemed the most appropriate place to leave him, and there he was, wide awake and squawking for food. So I went outside, dug up a few worms, and fed him. I had to cut them up because he was trying to swallow them whole.
My mum took me to the vets with him. I remember the vet saying he had never treated an owl before, and he was really intrigued. After checking him over he confirmed that there were no serious injuries. However, he considered the chances of it surviving more than a few days in captivity were very slim. My dad took me back to Ghyll Royd that night and we sat on a wall for ages waiting to see or hear any sign of adult owls. There were none at all, so we decided it was pointless releasing him back there, and the only option was to keep him.
Naturally, I called him Olly.
For the next few days I carried on feeding him chopped worms, but then he seemed to loose his appetite for them. We went back to the vets to find that he had been reading up on owls and their diet. He said we should feed him Lambs hearts that were chopped up and wrapped in light bird feathers, and the occasional wild mouse. I asked him the obvious question, should the mice be dead or alive. He said, either providing they are freshly deceased. Lambs hearts were not a problem as Kays butchers on Town Street at Guiseley kept me well supplied.
The mice, however, were not that straight forward, and I decided to just feed him the heart for now, with the occasional chopped worm as a treat.
Two weeks after finding him, once we realised that he was obviously a fighter and determined to survive, my dad and I built a large cage (aviary) to place on top of the coalbunker. Ours was an in-door coal bunker which was great because it didn’t need much extra heating.
It was now time to introduce mice to its diet so I bought a proper trap that was designed to catch them alive, and put it out on the adjoining garage site. It took days to catch the first one, but then I managed to catch them quite regularly.
I didn’t have the heart to kill the mice so I left that for Olly to do. To be fair, whist I was at school it was the only exercise he was getting as I hadn’t yet taken him out into the fields.
However, a week later I was in a real panic. Olly appeared to be choking and I didn’t know what to do. He then spit out a slimy looking fur ball, and when I poked about with it I found some tiny little bone fragments inside, wrapped in fur and feathers. I then discovered that that was the norm for owls, and it became a regular occurrence.
Over the next 2 or 3 months he went from strength to strength, losing his baby fluff and growing rich brown feathers. During that period he never made the twit twoo sound that we expected him to make, just a clicking noise. Then he suddenly started with such a wide range of screeches, squawks and shrill sounds it was almost as though he was trying to talk to us.
At that time we also had a dog called Kell who was a Labrador multi cross, with a lovely reddy brown and white coat. He used to sit in the coalhouse for ages watching Olly. I don’t know if he was thinking ‘that looks tasty’ or ‘I want him to come out and play with me’.
Now the tough reality was approaching, I needed to take Olly out into the fields and get him flying in preparation for releasing him. It would be difficult taking him when it was really dark as I would probably loose sight of him. So I decided that I would take him out at the weekend at around dusk.
The first attempt proved to be a disaster.
To be cont.....