“Fred” the owl peers from the cardboard box he was transported in minutes before taking flight to freedom. The adolescent owl was returned to the general neighborhood in which he was found so he would best be able to return to his own territory. (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

Donald Fournier, left, from Avian Haven in Freedom and Rick Hudson of Greene release a rehabilitated owl that Hudson found and rescued from the middle of Hotel Road in Auburn. Hudson nicknamed the owl “Fred.” (Sun Journal photo by Andree Kehn)

AUBURN — When Rick Hudson rescued an injured juvenile barred owl from the middle of Hotel Road in late December, there were a lot of unknowns.

The owl had vision problems, had lost some flight feathers and it wasn’t known whether it would ever return to the wild.

Over four weeks, the owl made steady gains. Thursday afternoon, Hudson coaxed the owl he named Fred out of a cardboard box and watched him take flight.

Fred hung out for a few seconds in some birch trees a few feet away, then flew east, toward Taylor Pond.

Don Fournier, a volunteer driver at Avian Haven, a wild bird rehabilitation center in Freedom, picked Fred up from Hudson on Hotel Road in December, and took the bird back to Auburn on Thursday.

“I’ve had everything in there,” he said, gesturing to the back of his car, “everything from hummingbirds to bald eagles.”

Fournier said he released 125 birds last year, and every release was a success story.

“You go through a lot to get (the birds),” he said. “You just want the best outcome for them. A lot of times, it doesn’t turn out the greatest, because of how the bird is hurt.”

Hudson had wrapped the owl in a blanket for half an hour while he waited for it to be picked up and was sent periodic updates on its rehabilitation.

“It was so cool to see him fly away,” Hudson.

Fournier said a lot of planning goes into the release, from ensuring smaller, territorial birds aren’t released into competing areas to protecting rehabilitated birds from adversaries — in an owl’s case, that would be crows.

“We like to (release owls) at sundown because of the crows,” Fournier said. “If the crows are still out, they’ll go crazy on the owls. They’ll dive-bomb them and harass them because they look at them as a threat.”

No crows protested the release of Fred late Thursday afternoon. Fournier said Fred’s release went smoothly, but some releases don’t quite happen as planned.

Last year, Fournier said, Avian Haven rescued a bald eagle in Saco that had eaten a an animal euthanized with drugs and the eagle had to be rehabilitated. Fournier said Saco’s Animal Control Officer asked whether he could bring some police to watch the eagle’s release at a cemetery in Saco.

“Some” police ended up being 12 squad cars, plus a cemetery loaded with people.

“Everyone’s out there with phones, ready to take pictures. The bird saw everyone, and started flailing in the cage,” Fournier said. “He freaks out, I had sandals on, the bird jumps out, lands on my foot and walks away into the cemetery. All the people standing there asked, ‘What just happened?’”

However, Fred didn’t freak out, and hung around long enough for Hudson to say farewell.

The release came on the same day news broke that a great black hawk found in Portland and treated at Avian Haven would have to be euthanized because of its injuries.

“To have a story that goes in the other direction, to have the bird I found be released today, that’s amazing,” Hudson said. “We’re very fortunate that his injuries weren’t serious.”

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