This week, I have been pondering the value of bird rehabilitators. Let me assure you that I have no doubts about how much they contribute to individual birds and to the ravaged conscience of modern man. A world without bird and/or mammal, fish and reptile rehabilitators would be a very sad one.

My pause for thought came when I found a Stygian Owl in a city park in Sao Paulo, Brazil. When I say “found”, I meant to say “was shown”. I bumped into a birder as he was watching a Black-necked Stilt on the lake. Never having seen a birder in the park before, I hoped to glean a bit of local knowledge from him. Despite his limited English and my non-existent Portuguese, Renato managed to communicate that there was an owl close by. Needless to say, I was absolutely thrilled when he located it for me and I made the mental tick there and then. I wanted to ask him a few questions about the bird, but our communication bandwidth was very narrow, so I made do with a few photos, a handshake and a big smile.

A few moments later, another birder appeared. Alex had better English and was able to respond to my questions; the owl had been in this spot for about a week and it had previously been seen in the woods to the  south west. He didn’t know if it was male or female.

Then came the bombshell. It was a rehabilitated bird that had been released into the park.

Can I include a rehabilitated bird on my life list? Curse those ministering, rehabbing angels for their kindness and dedication and for presenting me with such a quandry. And curse you too, Alex, for your grasp of English. That is probably enough cursing in the circumstances. The Portuguese believed that the owl was a portent for bad luck and despised them. The tradition has carried on into Brazilian folklore as Alex informed me in his good English.

The questions that are raised with a rehab bird are things like; without human help, would the bird have lived? Would it be here in a city park?

I wish that I had pressed Alex more closely on the provenance of the owl. He did mention that the rehabbed bird had been released over 4 years ago. Thus, assuming that it was the same bird, it had managed to fend for itself and live wild for that long.

Would a rehabber release a bird into a city park if it had not been rescued from inside the city? There are a few other sightings of Stygian Owls around Sao Paulo city in the past few years, so unless it is the same one that got lost in the one-way system…..

Luckily , this is a purely personal dilemma as the 10,000 Birds collaborative list already contains sightings of Stygian Owl courtesy of Nate and Donna. So I will wrestle with my conscience about including the owl on my list and for momentarily doubting the great work of rehabilitators everywhere. Perhaps I will just keep it until another one comes along.



Written by Redgannet
Redgannet worked for more than 35 years as a flight attendant for an international airline. He came to birding late in his career but, considering the distractions, doesn't regret the missed opportunities. He was paid to visit six continents and took full advantage of the chance to bird the world. He adopted the nom de blog, Redgannet, to avoid remonstrations from his overbearing employer, but secretly hoped that the air of mystery would make him more attractive to women. Now grounded, he is looking forward to seeing the seasons turn from a fixed point.