John Fielding loves living in a small town.
He loves everything about it.
But even he has to admit that when a representative from the Dakota Zoo came to southern Stark County near the Hettinger County border to release a bird, it was a happy ending to a three-month adventure.
Fielding, who has a TSA job at the Dickinson airport, spotted something moving on the side of Highway 22 just a short distance away from the airport in mid-November.
He stopped and turned around.
What he found would add a long 10-hour road trip to his day in the middle of a blizzard.
It was Grey Horned Owl.
“They are the most fierce predator of all the raptors. They will take down other raptors,” he said, recalling that he found it with a broken wing right after a snow plow had gone past.
“It was hard to catch in the snow. I had a pair of work gloves that weren’t that heavy that I knew I could end up with cut-up hands. You could feel it grip down, but it didn’t fight or anything,” he said.
“It seemed like it knew I wasn’t going to harm it.
“I had crouched down a couple of feet from it and called the Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota – I had been there before – they have a veterinary hospital and are federally licensed. They told me I couldn’t cross state lines, but they would try to find out who in North Dakota was licensed to handle federally-protected animals. Raptors are all protected.
“They called me back and told to me to watch it for a while and see if it is injured,” he recalled.
“I said it was hit by a snowplow and has a bad wing. I was sitting right beside it. I could touch it on the head. He said that is not normal behavior. It is injured,” he said.
Fielding was told to keep it in a box, so he went back to the airport and got a box to put the injured raptor into.
He left it in his vehicle while finishing his shift working at the airport, after being told not to bring it into a warm area.
Fielding said he was told he needed to take the injured raptor to the Dakota Zoo in Bismarck because it had a licensed rehabilitation center.
“I worked my afternoon shift at the airport and called my wife to tell her I was not going to bring it home. She told me it was a blizzard and no travel was advised and she brought my four-wheel drive.
“It turned out to be a 10-hour drive. It was slow going, even with the four-wheel drive,” he recalled.
For the injured owl, it was the start of a three-month time to heal in Bismarck.
“They waited until the next week to do a scan and found it was a broken radial bone in the wing. They said they would keep in touch with me and monitoring it.
“It was eating fine. And about a month later, Terry Lincoln, the director there at the zoo, told me he was cautiously optimistic and there was a chance it could heal and fly again. About two weeks later, he told me it was flying in the enclosure and another couple of weeks, they X-rayed it again. They said it looked like it was healing fine,” Fielding said.
Finally, in mid-January the owl was released back into the wild again near where it was injured.
“They are a territorial bird and usually mate for life. There was one that was still there. A couple of days before the release, there was one still hanging around,” he explained.
The Zoo didn’t fully examine the owl, Fielding said. “The didn’t want to sex it, because they didn’t want to bother it any more than they had to. They thought it was either a young female or more than likely a male.”
Grey Horned Owls are not the only things he has saved on his way to work, Fielding pointed out. He also recently helped a man who was trying to change a tire in sub-zero weather one morning.
On his way to another job as a substitute teacher in Dickinson, Fielding gave him a ride to work at the water department.
In February, he also help remove a truck trapped on top of a snow mound in the middle of Main Street in New England.
For Fielding, it is a way of live to help out.
“We have rescued a lot of animals over the years… but never a raptor. We had a lot of songbird, a fox and even some fish,” he explained. “We found some fish, spawning, that got trapped in the branches and stuff,” he added, explaining how he once found a Quill backed Harpsucker trapped west of town in the Cannonball River.
“I was down there messing around with the kids. I saw this little silver thing wiggling around, caught in some grasses. It’s quill was caught in a blade of grass and couldn’t get loose. It was kind of a rare find to see something like that because you rarely come across them. They pretty much stay at the bottom,” he added.
“I always was the kid bringing home injured animals (while growing up),” he explained.
That has continued to the present and even become part of the family experience.
Once, his children found a robin near the swimming pool. “It was just a tiny baby bird that barely had feathers. It lived. It would sit in our bedroom and look out the window at the other birds eating the berries right outside the window.
“After we released it, it would come back to the window at sun up. For two years, it would come back. The first year, it would come back on my shoulder and its mate would look at it like it was crazy,” Fielding added with a smile. “The second year, I’d be mowing the lawn and it would bounce on over on the grass,” he added with a chuckle. “No other bird would come over when you are mowing the lawn.”
Being rescued isn’t unusual for the animals around the Fielding household. “All of our animals have been rescued.”