Another Nasty Encounter Between An Owl And A Barbed Wire Fence

Many readers will remember the Barn Owl I had to cut out of barbed wire last summer in Montana. At the time I only had a small, cheap and dull pair of wire cutters with me and the effort required to cut the thick double-stranded wire strained tendons in my arm that took several weeks to heal. So I invested in a pair of new, heavy-duty cutters to carry in my pickup in case I ever came across a similar situation again. It’s a darn good thing I did.

Caution: some of these images may be disturbing to some viewers.



short-eared owl 2417 ron dudley

Yesterday morning Mia and I were cruising the back roads of northern Utah looking for birds to photograph when we passed this adult Short-eared Owl on our left. It was perched on the wrong side of the road for good light but Mia looked back again and noticed something very disturbing so I backed up to investigate.

The adult was there for a reason.


short-eared owl 2430 ron dudley

Perhaps 10′ in front of the adult was one of its recent fledglings entangled in a barbed wire fence. The adult didn’t fly off until I was very close to both birds which tells me of its concern for the juvenile. I fired off a couple of shots of both birds from my pickup and then just sat there for a moment as we tried to figure out our strategy in rescuing the youngster. If you make a mistake in these situations you might live to regret it if you care anything at all about birds.



short-eared owl 5974 ron dudley

This shot shows what an obstacle course barbed wire fences present to these young birds as they’re learning to fly, often in the semi-darkness. There are five strands of wire on the fence and those deadly barbs are very close to each other. The barbed wire I remember in Montana years ago had significantly fewer barbs and it only takes one of them to snag a bird or other wildlife.



short-eared owl 5981 ron dudley

This view from a different angle shows how seriously the wing was mangled.

Cutting fence in cattle country is serious business so I was determined to avoid cutting it if at all possible. I spent almost 15 minutes trying to get the owl off the wire but the wing was already badly damaged and it was wrapped around the wire in such a way that I simply could not extract the owl without further mangling the wing. A comment made by friend and wildlife rehabilitator April Olson on the post I made about the Barn Owl entangled in wire in Montana kept coming to mind as I was struggling to make my decision. In that comment she said:

  • “Thank you for cutting the wire. We received a beautiful young great horned owl that had been tangled in a barbed wire fence, but the farmer didn’t want to cut the wire. Instead he cut the owls wing tendon that was wrapped around the wire. Unfortunately we could not repair the damage and the owl could not be saved.” 

So in the end, with great reluctance, I cut the wire and as the tension in the wire was released the owl was freed instantly with no further damage to the wing. The owl was alert, bright-eyed and even cooperative as we wrapped it in a towel and began the long drive for help.

But I took a few minutes to stop at the nearest ranch house to report the cut fence wire and while there I talked to two gentlemen who lived nearby. The first fellow was friendly, gregarious and seemed to understand the situation from my point of view. The second gentleman – not so much. He was obviously unhappy that I had cut the wire for an owl. But it turns out that neither of those gentlemen owned the fence so I gave them both my card with contact information and asked them to inform the owner of the fence what I’d done and why and to tell the owner that I would pay reasonable repair costs for the cut wire. They agreed to do so.

As I made the long drive out of the area Mia and I tried to figure out our next step. The best option was to drop the owl off at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah in Ogden but they weren’t answering their phone, perhaps because it was Sunday and Father’s Day morning. So as I drove, Mia called our good friends Jerry Liguori and Mike Shaw of Hawkwatch International to try to figure out an alternative strategy. Both Jerry and Mike were incredibly helpful and in the end we drove the owl to HWI headquarters in Salt Lake City where we met Mike and handed the owl off to him. Mike then made arrangements to have the bird delivered to the Ogden rehab center. I’ve heard nothing since.



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The owl was still in relatively good shape when we arrived at HWI to meet Mike – here Mia is holding it wrapped up in the towel as we’re parked in the parking lot. There’s a feather in front of its right eye that makes it look a little strange but neither eye was damaged. I don’t think Mia will ever forget that 90 minute ride with this beautiful little owl on her lap.

I’m enough of a realist to know that the odds are likely against the survival of this youngster. I won’t be surprised if there are both broken bones and soft tissue damage to the wing and those kinds of injuries are often untreatable but we had to give this bird every chance possible.

At this point I can only hope for two things – that the owl can be rehabilitated and released back into the wild and that the owner of that fence and I are in the same ball park if/when we try to agree on what “reasonable” fence repair costs are. Even though I’m not a fan of barbed wire, having grown up on a Montana farm I have a lot of empathy for the hard life of many farmers and ranchers and there’s no question that when I cut the fence I didn’t make life any easier for its owner.

But as far as I’m concerned I didn’t have an acceptable alternative.


Update: While I was taking an afternoon nap this email came in from Mike Shaw at Hawkwatch:

  • “Just heard from DaLyn in Ogden: the owl made it through the night, ate all it’s food, and she’s optimistic it can be released. The wing was pretty beat up and needed stitches, but no broken bones.”

Dalyn is the director of WRCNU. I’m overjoyed. To be perfectly honest I was prepared for this little guy not to make it.

I’m so glad I decided to cut that wire!

68 comments to Another Nasty Encounter Between An Owl And A Barbed Wire Fence

  • Great job. Thought you might like to see this insanely quick and easy rancher’s fence repair:

  • Sharon Constant

    Jeremy and I would be happy to chip in for the fence repair. Just let us know. Thank you Ron and Mia for taking such good care of our beautiful birds!

  • Ron, if you find that the owner of the barbed wire estimates cost of repair quite high, I suggest you pass the word along to us and you may (or may not) be surprised by how many of us would like to chip in! (Now that I know of the happy-enough ending, I came back to view this post.)

  • Jean

    So glad you and Mia were there, and the Owl is doing ok. Such a beautiful creature. I know its Mother felt helpless. They are going to release it in the same area?

  • jeff

    Glad you and Mia were in the right spot at the right time! Hoping the owl makes a full recovery!
    I’m sure you will be “repaid” for your efforts!

  • Dick Harlow

    Great news about the owl!

  • April Olson

    Glad it turned out well for the owl! wishing speedy recovery. I hope the farmer is reasonable too.

  • Betsy Livingstone

    Bravo, Ron – well done all around. I have a question: When the owl is rehabbed and ready for release, will it be returned to the place where you rescued it? I’m sure one mama owl would be thrilled to see her baby come back.

    • I don’t know for sure, Betsy. I hope so.

      I know rehabbers often attempt to do so whenever possible. When the Barn Owl we rescued in Montana was fully rehabbed they made the considerable effort (it was a long drive) to release it back into the Centennial Valley where we found it.

  • Debbie Trainer

    Thank you so much for helping the young owl. It is so hard to look at those pictures.How wonderful that mom stayed close to him to keep him safe and she probably fed him too. I feel bad for her that she doesn’t know where her baby is going.And I feel sad for the young owl. He was probably having a good time trying out his wings and then this happened. I so hope they can help him fly again and if not that he be used as an education owl.That owl is so very lucky that you found him.

  • Susan


  • Thank you to EVERYONE involved. And I am so glad to read the update on Mia’s blog.
    I do hope the cost of the fence repair is reasonable. And if it isn’t I for one would be very glad to chip in to assist with the costs.

  • gillian

    A heartbreaking situation that you handled in the most compassionate and helpful way. Sending healing thoughts and wishes for recovery for the owlet an understanding for the farmer. I too would be more than happy to donate to what someone called the ‘cutting fund’ Thanks so much to you and Mia who are surely 2 of the more outsatanding advocates of wildlife. And indeed of all life including us dangerous humans

  • Jerry Ellison

    Way to go Ron and same for Mia!! I echo all the other remarks and am proud to know you!!

  • Karen

    Bravo Ron and Mia! Cutting the barbed wire is the ONLY option, as others have said. It is the only
    way to possibly hope to save the wing from further damage.

    And as for people who don’t think an owl is ‘worth’ saving and that their precious barbed wire fence has
    more ‘value’ than a living being….well, I won’t go off on that rampage.

    Blessings for your rescue and sending light to that little one. Though having worked in raptor rehab
    and seen barbed wire injuries, one shouldn’t get ones hopes up. Barbed wire is nasty stuff.
    Thanks for your kind consideration of this precious little owl.

  • susan

    Thank you Ron and Mia. I honor you!
    Oh by the way, I have fifty bucks to contribute (gladly!) if the fence owner should be unreasonable regarding the cost of the repair. I am a loyal member of Team Dudley and think of it as compensation for my grateful appreciation, lol!

  • Jo Ann Donnelly

    God bless you and Mia for saving this little fledgling, Ron!! I so hope s/he can be rehabbed and will pray for that. I also SO admire you regarding your actions towards the fence owner. I hope s/he is understanding and respects you for your efforts to reimburse him for the cut wire. Not everyone would do that. Will be watching for updates on the young owl!!

  • Nancy Blake

    A sad story about the bird, but a wonderful example of your kindness and respect for wildlife. In addition to possible fence repair costs, I encourage your readers to consider the costs incurred by wildlife rehabilitators. They do not get any funding other than from private sources. Those great people need all the support we can give them.

    • Good point, Nancy. I made a cash donation to the Montana Raptor Conservation Center when they took that Barn Owl in for rehab. Perhaps I’ll do the same thing for WRCNU but first I have to find out what this fence repair might cost me…

  • Good job Ron and Mia ! Thank you both for caring and helping wildlife. You did the right thing and as I am sure you know, the fence fix is not that big of a deal, if it is then those ranchers are in the wrong business.

  • Becky Wylie

    You ARE the best!

    • I don’t know about that, Becky, but I appreciate the sentiment. I’m sure many of my readers would have done the same thing if it were at all possible.

  • Hello Ron. Another example of the dire consequences of Barbed Wire and why it was referred to as the “Devils Rope” soon after it was invented by Joseph Glidden in the late 1800s. Your “followers” might be interested in our resolve at FENCE-FLAG.COM for these Wire Barrier issues, especially Barbed Wire with Wildlife (on legs or Wing)impacting in low light conditions; whether Sage Grouse in the Western states or Portugal in Europe. I would hope you invest in a small carry case for fence repair when you come across these Wildlife entanglements—as they will continue! DJK

  • Kathy Lopez

    Thank you for your kindness!

  • Susan Stone

    I am so glad you got better wire cutters and that you were able to rescue this youngster. Even though the parent did not hang around, I’m certain it knew its baby was in good hands. Hopefully everything turns out okay, both for the bird and the fence repair costs. It is heart-wrenching to see pictures of bird caught in barb-wire. I have to wonder why those fences now have more barbs – it seems like on the old barb wire they were plenty close together. Clearly more is not always better.

    • “I have to wonder why those fences now have more barbs”

      I suspect it’s because it’s even more effective in containing livestock, Susan.

      Another thing I wondered about – this new wire is shiny metal but each barb is covered with a red coating of some kind. That made me kind of suspicious about what it might be but I did a little research and it looks like it’s just some kind of a brand trademark of one particular wire manufacturer.

  • Marvin Miller

    Hi Ron, great job. In the future you can carry along a fence repair kit in you pickup and save yourself a lot of hassle when you have to cut a fence wire. You need a couple of feet of barb less heavy wire, and hammer and a wire cutter. After cutting the wire, you then make a loop in both ends of the cut wire by folding it back and wrapping it around itself. Next, take the barb less piece of wire and tie it onto one of the loops and stick the other end through the other loop, with at lest 6-8 inches sticking through the other loop of wire. Then you take the claw of the hammer and hook the end of this 6-8 inch piece into it (pehaps bending it some so that it cannot slip out easily. Then twist the head of the hammer around until it is resting on the loop the barb less piece came through. Next you start turning the hammer around in circles tightening the wire around the tapered in part of the head of the hammer, using the hammer handle as a lever. When you have the wire as tight as you want it, you kind of have bend the hammer and wire back on itself so it won’t loosen, unwrap the wire from the hammer head and retie ii to the fence, and pesto, it is as good as new. Good luck, my friend and happy bird saving. PS-you might want to practice this at home with some light wire first to get the hang of it.

    • Thanks, Marvin. I’ve repaired barbed wire fence a few times over the years so I have some idea of how it’s done but it’s been a while…

      Pretty soon I’ll have more tools and hardware in my pickup than photo gear! 🙂


    I can’t tell you how important it is to cut the fence and not the bird, if the bird is to have any chance of survival. Please do let all of us know what you find out about this fledgling.

    Thank you for being there!

  • Christine

    Thank goodness for you and Mia–what an ordeal for that dear, little owl, and how lucky that you two came along. I will be keeping my fingers and toes crossed–awaiting some good news that the rancher doesn’t give you a hard time (I’d be “in” for a fund-raiser if you need one), AND to hear that the owl is OK. Sending some of what my Red-tail Hawk family calls “hawk magic,” your way!

  • Arwen Lynch, Professional Joy Seeker

    I’d be willing to donate to a “Cutting Fund” if you set one up. That way you would always have a little back-up. I hope the owner is a good human and understands.

  • Kris Eberhard

    Ron and Mia–thank you for your kindness and the example you set —you put your time, money , and action where your ethics are . I hope the owl makes it .
    If the farmer is unreasonable about compensation , maybe you could remind him of the value of the free “rodent control” the owls provide his spread……

  • Charlotte Norton

    You certainly did go a long way out of your way to be responsible for the fence. You are a wonderful custodian of this beautiful little bird. May it have a long and healthy life!


  • Eddie Seal

    We need a lot more people like your self as so many are being shot for fun around the world.

  • Roger Burnard

    To you Ron, and all your loyal readers who responded to my “mystery photo” questions, I say “thank you.” I will have to think
    long, and hard about the explanations offered.. very interesting, and worth of much hard thinking. It puzzles me, however,
    that with all the billions, and billions of images taken in the “digital world,” that I have never seen another image with the problem
    I encountered. I would offer this “challenge” to those of you that offered an opinion… see if you can duplicate the problem
    that I presented to you… get some screen, use your hand, or some other object as your subject, and see if you can get your
    subject to appear on the “other side of the screen….” I really, eagerly, await your results. Good luck, and again my sincere
    thanks to everyone who offered opinions. Take care everyone, be safe, and stay well… Roger ;-)))

  • Roger Burnard

    As I told Mia just a few moments ago, this act of kindness confirms again in my mind that you are both “good people.”
    There is little doubt in my mind that most people would never have even notice the little own hanging on the wire, and
    the rest would have not “cared” enough to stop, and try to help. Few would have had the knowledge, or the means to
    rescue the bird from the wire. You, and Mia did good Ron, real good. Hopefully the rancher/farmer will understand,
    and quote you a “reasonable price” for the fence repair. Only time will tell on that one, but I wish you luck. Please
    keep us posted. Your actions, and those of Mia too, are an inspiration to all of us to “not pass on by when we see
    an animal in distress.” Take care, be safe, and stay well…. ;-)))

  • Marina

    Ron you did the right thing. And I have a farm too. And it’s not that big of a deal to repair barbwire.the staples on those steel posts should keep wire from unravelling. So repair is minor. Not like when my neighbors bull got loose and tore down 1/2 mile of fence. If you had called division if wild life they would have done same thing. Cut wire. Thank-you. Please follow up on owl.

  • Laura Culley

    Ron and Mia, what a Godsend you are. Thank you! If the repair goes into the realm of “unreasonable,” I know I’d be willing to donate to a fun to close that gap down to reasonable. These little ones (and the big ones, too) face so many survival obstacles that we place in their path. So very many obstacles.

  • Judy Gusick

    Good for you! Hope the beautiful little one makes it! Barbed wire is a good/bad thing and, having grown up in MT you do have an appreciation for that. Hopefully the owner will be pleased you did notify and offer reasonable compensation – most wouldn’t even bother and chasing livestock is no fun.

    • “chasing livestock is no fun”

      That’s an understatement, Judy. I know that from experience. Thankfully the wire that was cut was the second strand down from the top (out of five strands) so the fence would still effectively restrain livestock.

  • There is a special place in my heart for you two. Live long and proud!

  • Dick Harlow

    Excellent job, Ron! You and Mia are the best!!
    Ron, you are a good, honest and reasonable man!
    Please keep us informed what happens with the young owl (good, bad or in between) and the fence.