An Eastern screech owl is exhibited at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center open house in Edgewater, Maryland, on May 20, 2017. The bird, which lost its eye after being hit by a car, lives with other raptors at the Scales and Tales aviary at Tuckahoe State Park on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
Collisions with vehicles are an unfortunately common occurrence for owls: as hunters, the birds follow their prey, which often means following them to the edges of streets and highways. Rodents, bats and other small animals are drawn to roadways in part to feast on the discarded food and other waste that ends up along the side of the road. Streetlights and lamps can also attract bats and moths, which in turn draw predators like owls to the area. Once an owl locks onto its prey, it may not notice or be able to avoid rapidly approaching traffic.
While cleaning up roadside garbage and driving slowly in areas frequented by owls can help avoid these types of collisions, wildlife casualties from cars unfortunately remain quite common. A recent study estimated that injuries from cars and trucks kill between 89 million and 340 million birds in the United States each year. In 2012, two-thirds of the screech owls admitted by the Wildlife Center of Virginia had been hit by vehicles, and 68 percent of those had eye injuries as a result.
If you do happen upon an injured owl or other wildlife, contact a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. In some cases, injured owls may heal completely and be released; in others, extensive injuries may make the birds non-releasable, but they can live comfortably in educational aviaries like Scales and Tales.