On Tuesday — Waterford School students’ first day back from winter break — the whole school got a special treat. That afternoon, Jan. 4, the majority of students were able to witness the return of their dear friend the barred owl — affectionately known by some seventh graders as “Jerry.”

The owl first made itself known to the school community on Nov. 11, 2021.

At around 6 p.m. on that November Thursday, Jennifer Wood, middle school math teacher, and Laurie Roberts, middle school science teacher, were leaving work.

“I saw [the owl] in the parking lot and its wing was up behind its head,” recounted Wood on Tuesday afternoon. “I went over to investigate and I said, ‘oh, no, that owl got hit by a truck…’”

The two teachers got a shovel from the greenhouse and started to scoop up the presumed-dead bird.

“Then, it opened its eyes,” said Wood. “And, then, it sat up on the shovel!”

Wood and Roberts brought the injured wild animal over to some high grass and shrubs and headed home, hoping the bird would fly away before morning. But when students and teachers started arriving the next day, Nov. 12, the owl was still there where it had been left the night before.

Willa Davis, a Waterford seventh-grader, got to school earlier than most and helped to set up cones and a sign — “Don’t worry, help is coming!” — to protect the injured creature.

Wood and Roberts reached out to Will Seegers, local game warden, of West Danville. Later that day, Seegers came to rescue the owl and transported it to the Vermont Institute of Natural Science’s (VINS) Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation in Queeche, Vt.

“I got to touch it and it was so soft,” remembers Davis.

On Tuesday, Jan. 4, Maverick Correia — a wildlife keeper with VINS — returned to Waterford School with the Barred owl — now fully rehabilitated. After 52 days away from home, Jerry was ready to hunt and fly on their own.

Correia told the Caledonian-Record that the owl had suffered a right-wing clavicle fracture and was put in a body wrap for a period of time to stabilize the bones.

“It probably got hit by a car, but it’s hard to know,” said Correia.

The Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation treats around 1,000 injured, orphaned and ill birds from throughout Vermont and New Hampshire each year, working closely with game wardens and volunteer transporters.

According to Correia, most of the patients at the Center for Wild Bird Rehabilitation have human-caused injuries, be they hit by a car or attacked by a cat.

Most of the time, the patients don’t make it through rehabilitation. But thankfully, Waterford’s Barred owl has a happy ending — for now, at least.

After the owl’s fracture was stabilized, Correia said the bird was moved first to an outdoor stall and then to a flight cage, getting expert care and adequate nutrition and liquids. Recently, the owl passed its flight and live prey tests and was cleared for release.

During the last seven weeks, Davis and her fellow seventh-graders have waited with bated breath to hear what would happen to their feathered friend; Davis made sure to call VINS for an update every week.

On Tuesday, Correia transported the barred owl back to the school, making sure not to play music or do anything that would stress the raptor out during the drive. He brought the bird to the edge of the woods surrounding Waterford School and, after some encouragement, Jerry the Barred owl was again free to roam the school property.

“We really like to release birds where they were found because it’s their home territory,” said Correia. “We’re not sure if this one has a mate here, but it might.”

Students cheered as the bird took flight, then perched in a tree and looked back at them.

Roberts and Wood noted that students and staff often see — or hear (“Who cooks for you!”) — barred owls in the trees surrounding the school. Sometimes, they are even able to watch them from their classroom windows throughout the day.

Now, if they look closely, students might be able to spot their friend Jerry by noting the small tag — a silver band — that was placed around his leg.

More information about VINS’ center can be found at vinsweb.org/wild-bird-rehab. Correia noted the important role that volunteer wild animal transporters play in facilitating the center’s work, and that the center will be holding a Zoom training for new volunteer transporters on Feb. 6 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

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