PAYSON, Ariz. — A Payson man now faces several charges after an unusual traffic stop early Wednesday morning where officers discovered a young owl in the car.
"Personally, I've never heard of this in my 30-year career. It's a first," Payson Police Chief Ron Tischer said.
It happened on Wednesday around 1 a.m. when officers pulled over the driver for a routine traffic stop. They found the little feathery creature sitting in the passenger seat.
"Tiniest, cutest, little owl sitting there on a baseball hat," Tischer said. "The first thought is that can't be a real owl."
The driver told officers he had just bought the bird from someone at a gas station for $100. Tischer says it was an unusual circumstance but his officers handled the situation perfectly.
After arresting the driver, they took the bird to the station and handed it over to Arizona Game and Fish.
"You never know what you'll come across," he said. "If we learn anything from this, you should call somebody, an expert, who knows what they're doing."
Laura Hacket, a wildlife biologist at Liberty Wildlife, was amazed when she first heard the story.
"It's an amazing story," said Laura Hackett. "But then you worry about the owl which is going through something, not at all natural for them."
While the situation sounds bizarre, Hackett says it's not entirely unheard of.
"We had another case earlier last year of a Great Horned Owl that was found and sold online and luckily U.S. Fish and Wildlife found out about it and grabbed it," she said. "It's happening more than I would expect."
The owl, which is believed to be a female Screech Owl, was given a complete assessment. Despite a bit of swelling, she seems to be in good health.
"Body condition seems okay," said Hackett. "She's standing, her eyes are open but the pupils have dilated two different sizes which indicate head trauma. She's also very calm and not putting up defensive behaviors, so we think there's some head trauma right now. We're not sure how extensive, we don't see any open wounds."
The bird will stay at the facility for several days of observation to see if it improves.
"Depending on how her recovery goes, the optimal outcome would be the swelling goes down, her eye function is normal, her behavior is normal, then we can release her out into the wild that's our goal," Hackett said.
The driver was booked on multiple charges including Aggravated DUI, possession of meth and possession, transport and purchase of wildlife.
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