Wildlife rehabilitators save owls and other wildlife, but Rocky the owl saves its rehabber in this story.
Let’s go back in time to November 2020. Then, our country was reeling from the pandemic, and the holiday season was a time of great rejoicing. A 75-foot Norway spruce is cut in Oneonta, New York, and placed on a truck for a 170-mile trip to Rockefeller Center in Manhattan.
As workers remove the tree from the truck, they discover two golden eyes peering out at them. It’s a tiny owl, a female Northern Saw-whet Owl, tucked into the base of the massive tree. The adorable owl with bright yellow cartoonish eyes immediately captures the world’s attention from the bright lights of the big city.
An owl star is born.
Rocky the Owl
The tiny owl aptly earns the name Rocky.
Rocky is what the world needed at that time. Finally, a break from the pandemic and turbulent election. This tiny owl gives us something else to root for!
Imagine Rocky’s surprise when her home is chopped down, strapped to a truck, and hauled to a new location with her still in it.
It’s time for a learning moment, folks. Please check the trees for wildlife before cutting them down. A few minutes and consideration for other living beings prevent tragedies.
Finding Rocky in the Rockefeller Center tree is a moment when we are thankful for the work of wildlife rehabilitators and their ability to assess for injuries and provide care for rehabilitation and release.
A short time later, the phone rings at the Ravensbeard Wildlife Center 110 miles north of Manhattan in Saugerties, New York.
Ellen Kalish, founder, executive director, and licensed wildlife rehabilitator of Ravensbeard answers a call that changes her life.
“I was close to shutting down before answering the call about Rocky,” Ellen says. “After providing care to Rocky, everything changed for me. People from all over the world reached out. It was amazing.”
Ellen saving Rocky was meant to be.
A Dusk Release
Luckily, Rocky didn’t suffer any severe injuries on her journey. However, she was a little dehydrated, and after several days of care, she was cleared for take-off by an avian veterinarian.
Ellen considered banding Rocky to follow her path after release but decided against it. She doesn’t want to create a media frenzy and have people looking for the bird to gain notoriety. So, Rocky is released back to the wild in a private setting.
Rocky’s release happens at dusk. Ellen brings Rocky to a safe place, removing the tiny bird from the carrier and gently stroking her head to smooth out her feathers. Rocky begins flapping her wings, anticipating release is near.
The owl lingers on Ellen’s hand, looking around her new surroundings, and then gazes back at her rescuer as if to say, “Thank you,” before flying off to a tree. Under Ellen’s watchful eyes, Rocky returns safely to her life in the wild.
The image of Rocky on Ellen’s hand is emotional and embodies what wildlife rehabilitation is all about: rescuing, providing care, and returning wild animals to nature.
Ravensbeard announces Rocky’s return to the wild with a Facebook post. “Rocky’s release was a success! She is a tough little bird, and we’re happy to see her back in her natural habitat.”
Weeks after Rocky’s release, Ellen says people call her thinking they see Rocky in their yard.
Tiny Owl Touches the World
Rocky’s arrival and departure provide a lifeline for Ellen, and through her short bond with this tiny owl, they help each other.
After responding to a call about an injured owl, people worldwide reach out to Ellen.
“I did two interviews for Ireland Radio, I was on the Today Show, and people sent me gifts that look like Rocky. The outpouring from around the world was incredible,” she says.
One of Ellen’s memorable Rocky moments is a family reenacting Rocky’s rescue with a video. Their daughter plays the part of the wildlife rehabilitator wearing thick gloves and holding a stuffed owl. The family wrote a song for the video that brings Ellen to tears.
Now nearly two years later, Rocky is still giving back to her rescuer.
Rocky the Owl Fundraiser
Ravensbeard Wildlife Center quickly outgrew its temporary home in Saugerties. And through fundraising efforts, Ellen purchased the center’s forever home. The new site sits on 14 acres in Saugerties with plenty of space to rehabilitate wildlife, run a full-time clinic, and expand its footprint with eight high-quality avian enclosures.
In addition to Ellen’s fundraising, the Saugerties Chamber of Commerce takes notice. For over 20 years, Ravensbeard supported and provided care for the wildlife from the surrounding communities of Woodstock, Saugerties, and Kingston.
To celebrate the “Miracle of Rocky,” the Saugerties Chamber of Commerce chose Rocky as the symbol of its 2022 Street Art event and is holding Rocky’s Gala and Auction on September 18 at 3pm EST. Thirty-five local artists created colorful Rocky sculptures on display in the streets of Saugerties since Memorial Day, running through the summer until the live auction in September.
See all the Rocky sculptures up for auction below.
Ellen says a third of the proceeds raised from this event help pay for her new center.
IntoBirds spent a Friday afternoon strolling the streets of Saugerties, looking at each Rocky statue up close. It was incredible seeing how this tiny owl inspires so many people.
Each sculpture is unique. The sculptures are whimsical, cartoony, steampunk-inspired, colorful, and glam depictions of Rocky. We love them all, and it’s hard to choose a favorite.
The statues each sit on a pedestal showcasing the artwork’s name and the artist with a QR code. So take a trip to Saugerties and bid on one of these incredible sculptures with your smartphone. Best of all, a portion of the proceeds helps support Ellen’s new center.
We recently visited Ellen at her current center and met her permanent bird ambassadors and patients. Every cage has a patient at varying stages of recovery.
And with each bird, there’s a story.
Sienna, the Red-tailed Hawk, came to Ravensbeard from someone’s living room. Imagine keeping a bird of prey in a parrot cage? All of Sienna’s feathers were damaged, and she’s an imprint. “She’s got all the things nature gave her except nature’s instinct to fear humans,” Ellen says.
Next, we stop at a cage of pigeons. Ellen points out that her pigeons come from all walks of life. However, most are racing pigeons found exhausted and emaciated in people’s yards.
Then there’s Twyla, Ellen’s beautiful Barn Owl. Seeing this old-world owl up close is breathtaking. Ellen describes her coloring as a toasty marshmallow, and she’s right. We touch Twyla feathers, which are indescribably soft and help us understand this owl’s silent flight.
Sequoia, the Great Horned Owl, greets us with a fabulous hoo-ha hoo-hoo-hoo call. This beautiful owl fell from the nest with her siblings. Unfortunately, her siblings didn’t make it, and Sequoia suffered a broken wrist and elbow from the fall. Ellen became the owl’s savior nursing her back to health with no parents around and the owl not ready to fly. Sequoia is a permanent bird ambassador teaching others about this incredible owl species.
The next cage is filled with Barred Owls. There are Ellen’s two adult Barred Owls and bird ambassadors, and three are owls orphaned jumping out of the nest too soon.
Ellens’s adult Barred Owls help raise the young birds by teaching them when to call, what to eat, and the basics of being an owl. Once the birds move to the flight cage and pass flight training and Ellen is confident they are competent hunters, they’ll be off to enjoy their lives in the wild.
After Ellen releases her birds of prey, she supplements food on her picnic table, so it’s there if they need it. And eventually, the birds stop coming back.
The Harris’s Hawks sisters are up next. This cage is brimming with activity as the Harris’s Hawks, aptly named Thelma and Louise, fly back and forth, stopping to stargaze at us. Stargazing is when the birds turn their heads upside down and stare at you. Ellen attributes this behavior to a vitamin-D deficiency.
The hawk sisters belonged to Ellen’s master falconer, and when he passed away, she agreed to take care of the birds for the rest of their lives.
A Rough-legged Hawk, a bird we seldom see in captivity, is in the next cage. This hawk belongs to Ellen’s best friend, Barbara “Missy” Runyan, of the Friends of the Feathered and Furry Wildlife Center in Hunter, New York. After Missy passed away suddenly, Ellen cares for this bird. So you can see this hawk has a special meaning to Ellen.
Other Winged Patients
Next up is a cage with one American Crow and two Fish Crows. The crows are permanent residents, and their cage is filled with catalogs and phone books for them to rip up and enrichment toys like children’s musical instruments, one a xylophone, to provide the birds with plenty of stimuli. These birds like keeping busy.
We can’t believe our eyes seeing a juvenile Bald Eagle in Ellen’s largest cage. The eagle is the last of three siblings, and when a fisherman sees the eagle sitting in the same place after 10 days, he calls Ellen. A visit with an avian vet confirms the eagle suffered a broken shoulder leaving the nest that has already healed. She’s hopeful a consultation with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology offers some options to get the eagle back out in the wild.
Other patients include a Turkey Vulture, an impatient patient about returning to the wild, and a cage full of American Kestrels ready for release.
More Patients and a Tortoise Too!
Inside the Ravensbird Wildlife Center, more patients fill her indoor cages. Linus, a molting Eastern Screech Owl, and T-Rex, an American Kestrel, are two of Ellen’s permanent education birds.
And there are more patients. A Peregrine Falcon, a baby Turkey raised with an incubator. Another American Kestrel, a Red-tailed Hawk that is an intake from that morning, and a Red-footed Tortoise. There are just so many patients.
Ellen cares for all types of wildlife. And her job as a wildlife rehabilitation is non-stop.
She’s so thankful for the volunteers that help her run Ravensbeard. “They’re amazing, and they’ve worked so hard. Every volunteer is a gift.”
Rocky the Owl Was a Gift, and So is Ellen!
And Ellen is a gift too, with a big red bow. She’s a lifeline for the many birds of prey and other wildlife she helps to rehabilitate and release each year. Rocky was a gift and helped save Ravensbeard from shuttering its doors, and now in the spirit of a tiny owl, the center is moving to a new location to help save even more wildlife.
A tiny owl helps rescue its rehabber, and now she can help save even more wildlife.
We can’t write a happier ending.
Ellen is doing her part, and in the spirit of Rocky the Northern Saw-whet Owl, now you can too. Pick up a copy The Christmas Owl by Gideon Sterer and Ellen Kalish to read the true story of Rocky’s adventure. All proceeds benefit Ravensbeard Wildlife Center.
Donate to Ravensbeard’s Wildlife Center’s Go Fund Me and attend Rocky’s Gala and Auction on September 18. Bid on your favorite Rocky Statue at https://www.accelevents.com/e/rockyinsaugerties#auction.