While driving through a wooded area Sept. 22 in southern Trempealeau County, a driver hit a barred owl that had been flying across the road. It survived despite spending the night wedged in the car’s front grill.

As a conservation warden for the state Department of Natural Resources, rescuing animals is all in a typical day’s work.

Meghan Jensen, who serves the Trempealeau County area as a warden, has responded to all kinds of calls from concerned community members regarding hurt or lost animals. Jensen has helped a wandering bear cub reunite with his family; she’s also released a bobcat that got trapped in a coyote trapper’s cable restraints.

But on Sept. 23, Jensen found herself in a situation of an entirely different league when she received a report of a barred owl that had been wedged in the front grill of a car overnight. Crazier yet, the owl survived.

“I get these calls when animals are in unique situations regularly, but I think this definitely tops it all,” Jensen said via phone Wednesday.

The person who reported the owl told Jensen he’d been driving through a wooded, river bottom area in southern Trempealeau County when he hit an owl that had been flying across the road.

Believing the animal had to be dead after a collision of that magnitude, the driver decided to continue without stopping. He planned to deal with the situation in the morning when it was lighter outside.

But when the driver returned to the car in the morning, he found the owl, wedged completely inside the grill besides its head and wings. And, more miraculously yet, alive.

“I cannot tell you how he got in there like that,” Jensen said with a laugh.

Unsure of what to do or how to remove the creature, the driver called Jensen for assistance. She was in the area and drove over right away. She was immediately stunned.

“Miraculously, he didn’t appear to have any bones or wings broken,” Jensen said. “I don’t think too many critters can say they survived a ride like that.”

Jensen and the driver were able to free the owl by removing part of the grill and wriggling it free. The owl immediately tried to fly away, but wanting to make sure it was truly unharmed, Jensen brought it to the Coulee Region Humane Society.

Kathy KasaKaitas, animal control supervisor and wildlife rehabilitator, said she encounters more owls in these situations than most people expect — in the past week she’s had at least three similar incidents with other owls who flew directly into cars.

“It’s probably more common than you would think — they focus on what they’re going after, and that’s how it happens,” she said.

Because owls and hawks are lighter raptors, KasaKaitas hypothesizes collisions with vehicles do not affect them as much as people would expect. Then again, most owls don’t get completely wedged into the grill of a vehicle.

“Sometimes they just shake it off and keep going,” KasaKaitas said, chuckling.

But most of them aren’t quite this lucky — KasaKaitas said she found no obvious injuries or signs of head trauma in that owl.

After watching the owl fly around the room for a bit and letting it rest, Jensen brought the owl back to where the accident had occurred.

The owl remained still in the tree Jensen put him in for a minute; then flew away as if nothing had happened at all.

“It’s just a miracle that this owl came out untouched,” Jensen said. “This one was a really happy ending.”

West is a reporter for the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram, which is owned by APG Media of Wisconsin. She can be reached at