When photos of "Zeus" the starry-eyed screech owl surfaced last year, he became an instant sensation. An early-life trauma not only left the beautiful bird almost blind, but it also permanently emblazoned his eyes with a celestial scene. While the injury means that Zeus can never return to the wild, his eyes do not cause him any pain, and we're happy to report he's doing really well.
Medically speaking, Zeus was diagnosed with conjunctivitis, corneal degeneration and other eye disorders, possibly caused by an attack from a predator or by flying into something as a fledgeling. Those glistening white flecks you see are the result of a protein involved in the clotting of blood pigments, known as fibrin. When tissues endure some type of trauma, the fibrin binds together with platelets to form a plug (or clot) over the wound.
"In our combined 40-plus-years of working with wildlife, we've never seen anything quite like it," says the team at southern California's Wildlife Learning Center (WLC), who have cared for Zeus since he was rehabilitated in 2012. "But he's doing great! He still hangs out in the office with us every day and is otherwise completely healthy."
Because he can't hunt on his own, Zeus must be hand-fed every day by WLC biologists, but it's a job they're happy to take on. So what's on the menu for Western screech owls? The avian predators usually hunt insects, rodents and small birds, so the team feeds Zeus a combination of mice and mealworms.
"We have seen people just about taken to tears when meeting this most special little owl," they say. "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."
His previous photos has even inspired loads of amazing fan-art:
Top header image: Wildlife Learning Center. All images used with permission.