A.J. Simon gave up his coat to wrap up an injured owl that he and his family found on a blustery winter night while driving to celebrate his daughter’s birthday.   

By April Ziemer

The extraordinarily cold temperatures two weeks ago did not stop A.J. and Jessie Simon from attempting to take their daughter, Hailey to the Olive Garden for her 11th birthday. Travel to the destination would prove to be an experience that Hailey, her younger brother Xander, and their parents will never forget.

They were traveling west on highway 64 toward Somerset, just passing the Apple River when A.J. pulled the car over to the side of the road. It wasn’t weather or car troubles that caused him to veer off the road; it was something interesting that caught his eye. A.J noticed an odd-looking bird that seemed to be an owl on the side of the highway. 

After approaching the injured owl, the Simon’s made the decision they couldn’t leave the bird to suffer in the frigid weather. A.J. and Jessie made phone calls to local vets for references. “None of the references panned out, so we ended up calling 911 to see if they had some resources to assist us,” said Jessie.

The anxious group waited for an hour on the side of the road on one of the coldest days of the season (-33) for an officer to arrive. Unfortunately, the only option the officer had was to wait for a DNR warden to travel 6.5 hours to retrieve the owl. Jessie shared, “At that point we decided the owl would benefit from coming home with us, instead of freezing to death.”

The family cared for the owl for one night. They brought the owl to their home. Turning up the heat in the garage, they put her in a padded box with towels, and covered her up to keep her as warm as possible. 

When asked about her extraordinary birthday adventure Hailey said, “It was kind of crazy. It was an experience that people normally don’t get to help with. It made me feel good knowing that we could help an animal. There’s a longer process than you think there is to help an owl.” 

The following day the owl was transferred to the Gabbert Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota. The Simon’s are unsure of the exact amount of time their new friend was able to for, but later in the week they received word from the Raptor Center that the owl had died.

In an email from the Raptor Center the family was told, “We are very sad to tell you that the adult female Great Horned Owl you found could not be saved, as it’s injuries were too severe. The owl was suffering from severe eye trauma and an irreparable fracture of the right humerus, which extended into the elbow. In cases like these, the kindest act to prevent future suffering is humane euthanasia. We are deeply grateful to those of you who have taken the time to help transport or rescue the raptor patient.”

When the Simon’s asked, “What is the next process for the owl?” The center responded, “For birds that are euthanized we do our best to use their carcasses to help teach students, veterinarians, and wildlife rehabilitators skills that are applicable to the profession. Even though the outcome for the individual owl is sad, the body will help teach future generations.”

“We share this planet with more than just humans, beautiful creatures such as this should not be taken for granted. The Raptor Center gave me a greater appreciation for all type of raptors. It’s a place that everyone should visit at least once,” said A.J.

Jessie added, “I have never seen an owl other than maybe at the zoo, so this experience for me was surreal. She was a beautiful raptor. To be able to care for such a unique animal is such a different type of feeling. Words cannot express the feeling.”

It was definitely a unique occurrence the family will be able to be able to reflect on yearly when Hailey’s birthday rolls around, and did eventually get her Olive Garden celebration. Now her younger brother Xander has some birthday plans of his own. He shared, “I really liked the owl and I really wanted to keep the owl as my pet. I want one for my 7th birthday!”

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