Payson, AZ – An illegally-captured owl riding in the front seat of an impaired driver’s car was rescued by police during a traffic stop early Thursday morning, according to investigators.
“Personally, I’ve never heard of this in my 30-year career,” Payson Police Department (PPD) Chief Ron Tischer said of the bizarre encounter, according to KPNX. “It’s a first.”
The incident occurred as officers were conducting a routine traffic stop at approximately 1 a.m. on Nov. 10.
As they approached the driver’s vehicle, they spotted a young owl sitting beside the driver, the PPD said in a press release.
“Tiniest, cutest, little owl sitting there on a baseball hat,” Chief Tischer later told KPNX. “The first thought is, ‘that can’t be a real owl!’”
But it was.
Police said the driver claimed to have purchased the owl from another motorist at a nearby gas station for $100 a short while before.
The other motorist had allegedly found the bird on the side of the roadway.
“The Payson Police Department would like to remind the public that wildlife should remain wild,” the PPD said in the press release. “It is illegal to possess, transport, buy, or sell wildlife unless expressly permitted by Arizona Revised Statutes.”
“The Payson Police Department would also like to take this opportunity to encourage the public not to use methamphetamine or you too may find yourself illegally purchasing a wild owl, for $100 dollars, in the middle of the night, from strangers, at a local gas station,” the department added.
The unidentified driver was arrested on multiple charges including methamphetamine possession, aggravated driving under the influence, and possession/transport/purchase of wildlife.
Officers noted that the owl could not be released due to apparent “minor injuries,” so it was turned over to the custody of Arizona Fish and Game.
Liberty Wildlife Biologist Laura Hackett said the bird is a female screech owl, KPNX reported.
“Body condition seems okay. She’s standing, her eyes are open but the pupils have dilated two different sizes, which indicate head trauma,” Hackett explained. “She’s also very calm and not putting up defensive behaviors, so we think there’s some head trauma right now. We’re not sure how extensive, we don’t see any open wounds.”
She said they are hopeful that the swelling will diminish and that the owl can be released back into the wild in the future, KPNX reported.
“That’s our goal,” Hackett said.