A barn owl found dazed at Hanford was dubbed “Jimmy Hoffa” by volunteers who nursed the bird back to health at the Blue Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation and Education Center.
“He almost became cement,” said Lynn Tompkins, executive director of the center in Pendleton.
A sharp-eyed Hanford employee spotted Jimmy’s beak and one of his wingtips sticking out of a load of gravel scooped up by a front loader at the Hanford vitrification plant this fall. The worker signaled for the operator to stop.
It was a rough ride for the bird, but the vitrification plant contractor, Bechtel National, said the owl was in no immediate danger of becoming cement. No mixing was planned that day.
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Tompkins isn’t sure how the owl ended up in the gravel to be scooped up.
Perhaps it was startled from a roost nearby, she said.
Barn owls are nocturnal and usually roost in nooks and crannies in buildings, trees or haystacks. They like to hunt inopen grasslands, which are abundant at Hanford.
When employees rescued the owl, the bird appeared to be distressed, and Hanford’s biological control staff was called to help, according to Hanford contractor Mission Support Alliance.
Releasing an animal back into its environment is a rare opportunity for us.
Justin Wilde, Hanford wildlife biologist
They contacted the center in Pendleton.
The center took X-rays and analyzed a blood sample, but found nothing wrong with Jimmy despite getting rolled around in gravel, Tompkins said.
The owl was given fluids, and after he started eating well, he was returned to Hanford after a stay of about a week at the center.
As the door to his transport box was opened in a quiet area of the Hanford shrub steppe landscape, he flapped his wings and was off, blending perfectly with the tan and yellow autumn brush.
“We were very fortunate the volunteers at Blue Mountain Wildlife were able to fully rehabilitate the owl,” said Justin Wilde, a wildlife biologist with Mission Support Alliance, in a statement. “Releasing an animal back into its environment is a rare opportunity for us.”
Mission Support Alliance’s ecological monitoring program monitors, manages and determines the potential impacts to plants, birds and animals at Hanford to make sure they are protected as the site is cleaned up.
“We’re leaving behind the ecological resources,” Wilde said. “We’re leaving behind species people can’t see in town.”
The 580-square-mile nuclear reservation is home to more than 200 species of birds, although barn owls are not common there, according to Mission Support Alliance.