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Sports >  Outdoors

Owl’s Port of Tacoma train ride is thwarted but soon he’ll be a wildlife ambassador

Nimh the owl as he was found resting on a rail car at the Port of Tacoma in September.   (Jenn Stebbings/Port of Tacoma)
Nimh the owl as he was found resting on a rail car at the Port of Tacoma in September.  (Jenn Stebbings/Port of Tacoma)
By Craig Sailor The News Tribune

Nimh the owl looked like any other traveler who might have a secured a comfortable window seat on a Chicago-bound train.

He was peering over the container car’s railing when Port of Tacoma biologist Jenn Stebbings approached him Sept. 14.

“I can’t make presumptions, but I’m imagining that had he made it all the way to Chicago, he would have been pretty bummed to wake up in a snowstorm,” she said.

Stebbings revoked the injured great horned owl’s ticket, and he’s now on track to becoming a wildlife ambassador.

The owl’s new chapter in life began when crews working for Port tenant TTX Company were putting the Chicago-bound train together early that day. They spotted the owl’s yellow eyes watching them.

They called Stebbings and marked with chalk where the owl was hiding.

Stebbings said the owl, one of three species that prowls the port, spends its nights looking for mice, rats and other rodents.

Come day, “It would be normally roosting in a tree somewhere, not hanging out on a rail car.”

Stebbings approached the owl from behind.

“As I got probably within two to three feet, the bird itself didn’t move at all, but it turned its head all the way around and made eye contact with me,” she said.

When she reached out for it, the owl didn’t resist, making Stebbings think it was injured or ill.

He was immediately named Nimh, both for the NIM (North Intermodal Yard) at the port and for the 1980s animated film, “The Secret of NIMH,” which has an owl character.

The 1-kilogram male owl is at least 3 years old, said Fawn Harris, hospital manager for West Sound Wildlife Shelter on Bainbridge Island. The shelter picked up the owl the day he was found at the port.

An X-ray revealed Nimh had a fractured coracoid process — the bird equivalent of a shoulder, according to Harris. It meant he would not survive in the wild. Owls need a fully functioning wing system to deftly catch the creatures they hunt, she said.

But Nimh, being of a calm disposition, turned out to be an excellent candidate for the position of licensed education ambassador.

“We utilize them in our education program to teach people about wildlife ecology, species, natural history and coexisting with wildlife,” Harris said.

First, a new enclosure for the owl must be built and then applications for the license must be approved by both state and federal wildlife officials, she said.

Nimh will remain semi-wild. Although he’s becoming accustomed to people, he will not be touched or treated like a pet, Harris said.

“We’re trying to respect the wildness of all the animals,” Harris said. “We try not to put human emotions with the animal.”

So far, Harris said, the owl is adjusting to his new life. And he’s enjoying regular meals of a favorite food: fresh rat.

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