It was a fairly routine wellness exam in the Northwest Trek veterinary clinic this week – but with a very special guest.
“See, I’m just extending the wing out here to look at his plumage,” says Trek veterinarian Dr. Allison Case, gently unfolding the white underfeathers of Teklus, the barn owl.
Reaching with one finger, Dorothy “Doro” Oliver leaned over the peacefully-sleeping bird in awe.
“He’s so soft,” she whispered.
For Teklus – the Lushootseed word for owl, pronounced “tukloose” and shortened to “Tuck” by staff – it was just an ordinary exam. But for Oliver – celebrating a birthday that weekend – it was a chance to return to the place where she’d spent so many happy hours first in childhood, then as a volunteer. Oliver is the second of three daughters of Dr. David “Doc” and Connie Hellyer, who created Northwest Trek by preserving the forested land, then donating it to Metro Parks Tacoma in 1971.
Oliver, who lives in Puyallup, can’t visit now as regularly as she’d like. And so watching Dr. Case, veterinary technician Sara Dunleavy and keeper Wendi Mello examine the pale brown barn owl was not just a new experience but a total joy.
“Daddy didn’t want this place all chopped up into developments,” said Oliver, of “Doc” Hellyer’s decision to bequeath the forested home to the public.
And in fact, that preservation of wild land is the reason that Tuck came to Northwest Trek in the first place. Barn owls, explains Mello, are fairly common in Washington. But Tuck was hatched at an owl rehabilitation center in New York state, where barn owls are becoming increasingly rare as a result of urbanization and big factory farms.
Now he’s an animal ambassador, not only to the wildlife park’s many visitors but to Oliver herself, who marvels at the bird’s astonishing anatomy: ear-shaped feathers that direct sound deep into the ear-hole for brilliant hearing; face muscles that open up while asleep and tighten when on the alert; and the way the claw closes naturally when the leg flexes – perfect architecture for a bird of prey.
As Mello passionately points out Tuck’s beauty and design, and Case prepares to set up a whole-body radiograph, Oliver looks on in content. Outside, the sun is shining through the tall trees, with only birdsong breaking the stillness.
“You feel differently when you’re out here – you feel a part of the forest,” Mello says, and Oliver nods.
“Yes, you do,” she agrees.