Craig Schreiner  /  Wisconsin State Journal
A stitch is removed from the eyelid of an owl after surgery to repair cataracts with lenses.
updated 3/30/2004 1:33:14 PM ET 2004-03-30T18:33:14

A great horned owl found starving in the wild because it had gone blind could be released this spring after having new lenses implanted in its eyes.

The owl, named Minerva by medical personnel, underwent two hours of eye surgery last month, and Dr. Chris Murphy said she was in good condition during a follow-up exam Wednesday.

“Perfect,” said Murphy, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist. “Ounce for ounce, this is considered one of the toughest birds on the face of the Earth.”

Cataracts the problem
Minerva was found in emaciated condition in early December, after someone told wildlife rehabilitators Sue and Jerry Theys that an owl had been sitting on a fence for three days.

Sue Theys, who netted the owl, said she suspected the owl had cataracts. After a local veterinarian confirmed the diagnosis, the couple brought the owl to Murphy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine.

Craig Schreiner  /  Wisconsin State Journal
Dr. Kathryn Diehl examines Minerva's eyes at the University of Wisconsin Veterinary School in Madison, Wis.

Murphy had a pair of lenses on hand that had been custom-made six years ago for another great horned owl that proved to be an unfit candidate for the surgery. The lenses were designed by Murphy and Dr. Chuck Stuhr, and were made for free by Storz Ophthalmics, a company that has been bought by Bausch & Lomb.

With Murphy supervising, Dr. Renee Carter and fellow resident Katie Diehl implanted the new lenses.

“To the best of my knowledge, this has not been done anywhere,” Murphy said.

The Theyses, who operate Wildlife of Wisconsin wildlife rehabilitation, paid for $300 of the $1,800 procedure, with the veterinary school donating the rest.

Eye drops needed
During her recovery, the Theys have been giving Minerva antibiotic eye drops three times daily and feeding her rats and an occasional rabbit.

In April, they will move the owl to a much larger flight cage and release live rats into the straw-filled enclosure to see if she can successfully hunt. If so, she’ll be released back into the wild.

Great horned owls are the largest owls in North America, with females obtaining a wingspan of five feet and weighing up to 5½ pounds. They use night vision and an acute sense of hearing to find prey in the dark.

“She’s extremely feisty,” Sue Theys said. “She can’t understand why we’re messing with her. She can see and she wants to take off and fly.”

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