Being blind is a very unfortunate handicap to live with, even in 2020. It’s even more unfortunate for wild animals, however, as most of them can neither hunt nor survive without their sight. For night-time predators like most species of owl, blindness can be a death sentence. Or, it can turn you into a viral sensation.
Meet Zeus, a male Western screech owl, native to Southern California, who was found one day by a Californian on their porch. The owl was injured, most probably from hitting his head on the house’s wall due to his almost complete blindness. The unnamed Californian brought the hurt animal to the Wildlife Learning Center in California where the staff could take care of it.
“He was found emaciated and blind in front of someone’s house in Central California,” said Paul Hahn, president and co-founder of the Wildlife Learning Center. “A veterinary ophthalmologist thoroughly examined him, brought him back to health, and deemed him non-releasable because he only has about 10% of his vision and would not be able to survive in the wild on his own.”
With only 10% of its sight, it was a miracle that the owl had survived as long as he had. As they couldn’t release him, the WLC staff adopted him instead. And as the little owl started getting accustomed to his new home, his caretakers started admiring his beautiful eyes.
Usually appearing black with multiple, small white spots in them when there’s no direct light, the owl’s eyes acquire a dark sky blue color when shined upon. That gorgeous color, together with the eyes’ depth, and star-like white spots easily make this screech owl one of the most beautiful specimens of its species. This is also the reason why the staff at the WLC called him Zeus – after the Greek god of the sky and thunder.
Of course, the explanation for Zeus’ eyes’ unique appearance is not as romantic. The owl’s eyes are in that due to a combination of factors. The first problem is the presence of clots of protein and blood pigment in them – these cause the white dots in Zeus’ eyes. The second problem is cataract – a clouding of the otherwise clear lens of the eyes that’s also common in older people.
Or, as Hahn explains it: “His general condition is a capsular cataract, the white flecks that glisten in his eyes are caused by unique fibrin/blood pigment clots. These pigments cause a unique starry-eyed look, for which he is well known, hence the name Zeus.”
Fortunately for the little screecher, his life seems sorted out for now. He spends most of his days with Paul Hahn, usually sitting on his desk. The bird and man have become great friends and enjoy each other’s company.
“Zeus exudes a very peaceful presence and is very calm. He has a very big personality and exhibits a bit of a curious nature,” Hahn said.
The president of the Wildlife Learning Center isn’t keeping the little owl all to himself either – if you’re ever near Sylmar, California, you can visit Hahn’s center and give little Zeus some love.
“We have seen people just about taken to tears when meeting this most special little owl,” the staff at WLC said. “It’s remarkable that Zeus’ disability brings so much awareness, sensitivity, and concern for not just screech owls, but all types of wildlife, as well as the environment we share. Zeus is truly an ambassador … he’s a joy. It’s not just a responsibility for us to care for him, but a privilege.”