SALEM — On Saturday night, Patrice Mehu of Salem had a dream. In his dream, he saw an owl.
Sunday, while walking down Canal Street, Mehu saw an owl again. And this was no dream.
Instead, it was a baby Northern saw-whet owl, apparently disabled and lying on the sidewalk. Mehu rescued the creature and took it to the Salem police station, the tiny bird sheltered in his hat.
Police had gotten word around 4 p.m. of the owl and had already sent patrolmen to find it in an area near Ropes Street, across from a car wash. They reacted at once to its unexpected appearance in the station.
“Everybody is saying, ‘Oh, look at this,’” Lt. Conrad Prosniewski said. “It’s a tiny, little thing. A cute owl.”
The owl spent some of the afternoon in custody, with officers snapping its photo. No one dared offer it food.
“I don’t think it would like pizza and Chinese food,” patrolman Keith Reardon said. “They eat things like mice and crickets.”
An examination seemed to indicate to Prosniewski that the bird had been grounded by an injured wing. Officers did some online research, determining it is the Northern saw-whet owl, a species that’s small even when full-grown. The big-eyed bird is native to forested areas here in the Northeast, which makes its appearance on Canal Street a bit of a mystery.
In any case, though the owl is fairly common, it is seldom seen by anyone, Reardon said. “They don’t come out until after dark.”
Reardon was designated to take the apparently stricken bird to Byfield and the home of wildlife rehabilitation specialist David Taylor. “I’ve brought other birds up to him before.” One of those rescued animals subsequently died, but another, a red-tailed hawk that had lost a wing to a hunter, was adopted by Triton Regional High School and lives in a special area on campus.
The tiny owl, housed in a box, made clicking noises during the 25-minute drive to Byfield and sometimes produced a sound, the nearest it could come to a screech.
“It’s very small,” Reardon said. Nevertheless, for the most part, he said, it seemed to be taking all the excitement calmly.
Taylor pledged to take the owl to a veterinarian.