Belfast Telegraph

Owl seeks refuge with Royal Navy

A tiny owl has been discovered as a stowaway on the Royal Navy's helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious.

The Eurasian scops owl was found cowering under the ship's crane on the flightdeck while the Portsmouth-based warship was off the coast of Yemen during the major Cougar 13 training exercise.

Leading Airman Mikaele Mua picked up the exhausted bird and passed it on to be looked after by the ship's weather man (Meteorology Forecaster) Lieutenant Chris Patrick - an avid "twitcher" and dedicated member of the Royal Naval Bird Watching Society.

Lt Patrick, 44 from Weymouth, Dorset, explained that this species would be migrating south towards Sub-Saharan Africa around this time of year.

He said: "It was clear the poor little thing had literally run out of steam. It must have seen the ship and took refuge. It looked as though it was simply waiting to die."

He said that the small bird stood no chance of survival if it remained out on the deck where the temperature had been averaging more than 40C (104F) with strong winds forecast.

He therefore decided to take the creature to his cabin where he made a comfortable cage, gave it water and tried to feed it small pieces of meat to build up its strength.

After just two days, improvements in the bird's condition were apparent as it became more alert and even tried to fly in the cabin.

He said: "I knew that the owl needed to eat live food that it had caught itself. With no insects or bugs onboard HMS Illustrious, it was clear to me I needed to get it ashore as soon as it was fit enough. The opportunity arose when the ship neared the Omani coastline."

After giving the owl a final check, Lt Patrick then released it.

He said: "The bird looked in good condition when it left and it was heading to shore with the prevailing winds. We all hope it made the journey safely."

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