With help from Tom Ricardi, four owls return to habitat in Deerfield

  • Tom Ricardi prepares to release a barred owl Wednesday in Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A great horned owl is released in Deerfield on Wednesday by Tom Ricardi, who nursed the raptor back to health at his Massachusetts Birds of Prey Rehabilitation Facility in Conway. The bird had a fractured wing. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A barred owl that was found starving before being nursed back to health by Tom Ricardi finds freedom in Deerfield on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • A barred owl that was released in Deerfield on Wednesday landed in a field, where it was harassed by some local crows before flying off to a tree. STAFF PHOTOS/PAUL FRANZ

  • Tom Ricardi releases a barred owl in Deerfield on Wednesday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 3/7/2021 7:28:31 PM

DEERFIELD — Last Wednesday was just another day at the “office” for retired environmental police officer Tom Ricardi, as he pulled his finger out of the chomping beak of a barred owl he was trying to release near the Deerfield River.

Ricardi, who turned in his badge in 2001 after 38 years on the force, continues his public service by running his Massachusetts Birds of Prey Rehabilitation Facility at his Conway home, where he nurses injured and sick raptors back to health. On Wednesday, he released four owls he has given a second chance.

Three were barred owls that were found starving and so weak Ricardi said he was able to catch them with a net. One also had a strained wing. Ricardi fed all three a diet of mice and quail until they were strong enough to be released.

The fourth, a great horned owl, was found with a damaged wing. An X-ray by Dr. Robert Schmitt of the South Deerfield Veterinary Clinic revealed a hairline fracture. Ricardi praised Schmitt, who has been helping him rehabilitate birds for years.

“I couldn’t help all these birds without his help,” Ricardi said.

Once Ricardi opened the wooden crate, the large owl with glaring yellow eyes and tufted ears exploded into flight, gliding to a nearby maple tree.

Last year, Ricardi treated and released 165 eagles, owls, hawks and vultures. He said he has helped 26 birds so far this year, mostly barred owls injured in vehicle collisions or suffering from malnutrition. He also provides sanctuary for numerous raptors that cannot be released back into the wild, including a pair of bald eagles that have been producing chicks yearly.

Asked how much longer he intends to run the rehabilitation facility, the spry 81-year-old quipped, “I love it. I’m gonna keep going.”


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