I was raised Catholic, so guilt comes easily to me. But I wasn't prepared for the self-loathing I felt as I stared into those frightened yellow eyes.
It started innocently enough as an attempt to get rid of some pack rats around my home - a frustrating process as many Tucsonans know well. My battle with pack rats began years ago when I returned from vacation to discover that pack rats had gotten into my garage and under the hood of my car and had eaten most of the vehicle's electrical system. This episode made me wonder whether there isn't a proper role for nuclear weapons.
The last time I tried to get rid of pack rats, I almost lost a finger to the snap of a rat trap. This time I purchased two large glue traps, which are coated with a scented sticky substance that attracts rats or mice, which then get stuck.
The traps worked as advertised, catching three small pack rats. But I was horrified to discover that one trap also held a Western screech owl, an adorable species about 8 inches tall, which has had its habitat hammered by development. It wildly flapped its wings, trilled and barked, in a futile effort to escape.
Now what to do? An Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum staffer told me to call Janet or Lewis Miller at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northwest Tucson. Janet told me to carefully wrap the bird in a towel and bring it in.
The Millers have run the center for about 15 years, aided by 52 volunteers. They have hundreds of cages around their home, holding owls, hawks, falcons, and other species of birds and small mammals. Lots of human activities maim birds and animals but one of the worst, according to the Millers, are glue traps, which ensnare screech and elf owls, Gila woodpeckers and cactus wrens.
All traps have the potential to attract something other than what the trapper wants to kill. But glue traps work in a particularly insidious fashion. When placed, they appeal only to critters attracted by the scent, but once moths or other insects or, in my case, a small pack rat gets stuck, glue traps suddenly become attractive to insect-eating birds and raptors or owls that eat small mammals.
I arrived at the Millers' center full of remorse, not wanting to look anyone in the eye, and hoping for redemption. They couldn't have been nicer. Lewis first used mineral oil to dissolve the sticky substance on the screech owl's feathers and beak; then Janet used a small dropper to feed it liquid electrolytes to replace those lost by the bird during this horrific experience. A volunteer readied a cage in a warm area. A wash with Dawn dish soap will follow and plenty of feedings over the next couple of days. As of this writing, I don't know whether my screech owl will survive.
The Millers are able to nurse back to health and release into the wild about 75 percent of the birds and animals brought to them. Some additional birds, such as roadrunners and raptors, may be placed in zoos or used in educational settings. The rest are put down.
The Millers' center is licensed both by state and federal agencies, but the money to operate comes from the Millers and from private donations. The Millers spend approximately $1,000 a month merely to purchase mice to feed the raptors.
The future of the center is uncertain, as the Millers are getting on in years and the funding is always precarious.
Before I left the center, I made a donation to the Millers and vowed to myself never again to use a glue trap. I hope stores will stop selling these things.
E-mail Robert Glennon at firstname.lastname@example.org