The baby owl was sitting huddled in the corner of the rail cab when Mayra Gomez learned about it.
"I got excited and said, 'Oh, it's a baby owl. None of the other techs wanted to grab it because they were scared. They said, 'Don't grab it, it could scratch you.' I walked inside the train and approached it. He didn't put up a fight. He needed help. He looked weak," recalled Gomez, a light-rail vehicle electronics specialist.
The owl was placed in a cardboard box lined with paper towels, and on her lunchtime, Gomez bought ground beef for the owl. She held its beak open to feed it and then gently stretched its wings and let them go to prompt the owl to swallow.
"He was so weak when I grabbed him. He was just on my hand and barely opened his eyes," said Gomez.
It had been a cold week in February, and rail employees speculated the owl had flown into the facility when its giant doors were open, then got confused and was unable to leave at night when the doors were closed.
Gomez was no stranger to rescuing wildlife. She grew up in the countryside of El Salvador and recalls climbing up a tree at age 9. A pigeon flew around her and let the youngster grab it. She felt as if she had made a friend and proudly showed the pigeon to her grandma.
Her grandma cared for 14 children and immediately made pigeon soup. Gomez didn't eat it. Since then, she's had a soft spot for wildlife. Years later, when she moved to Chicago, Gomez often rescued birds trapped in the snow. "I would take them in and try to keep them warm," said Gomez. She rescued a kitten, two abandoned dogs and a squirrel. But every creature she rescued died, was accidentally killed or ran away.
This time, she was determined that the owl would live.
She took the owl home and left its box open, but it didn't fly out for three days. On day four, the owl flew into her closet and hid there all day. Gomez, holding her son in the photo on the right, found a wildlife center on Kirby Drive which would take the owl and delivered the bird on day six.
The wildlife specialist identified the owl as an adult screech owl. A blood sample indicated the owl was healthy, and it was released the next day. Now, Gomez – the only woman in a crew of four technicians – has a new nickname: the owl lady.
She's also an official volunteer at the wildlife center.
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