SEAFORD, Va. — One snowy night back in late January, York-Poquoson Sheriff's Deputy Mike Plessinger saw a ball of feathers in the road in the Baytree Beach area of Seaford.
The deputy moved quickly, pulled over and stopped another vehicle approaching the unknown object.
As Plessinger looked closer, he found the bundle of feathers was none other than an Eastern Screech Owl.
The little creature was breathing, but Plessinger said the owl was in shock. The deputy quickly wrapped the owl in a towel and placed her in a box he had in his car.
As the owl rode shotgun in Plessinger's patrol car, the deputy had no idea the journey he and the owl were about to take together.
Plessinger made the owl comfortable at his home, setting up a cage lined with towels and a water bowl. His family bestowed the name "Owly" onto the bird which Plessinger said was female.
While Owly was made comfortable in the Plessinger home, she still was in shock and not interested in food. In order to get her to eat, Plessinger soaked dried mealworms and fed them to her by hand.
After a few days of Plessinger nearly force-feeding the owl, she finally started to open her left eye.
While the owl showed signs of improvement, it was a long way to recovery. Her right eye remained shut for several weeks and she displayed symptoms of a concussion. This indicated that she either was struck by a car or hit a tree on the right side of her head.
In the weeks that followed, Plessinger tested the owl's strength and eyesight, letting her outside for brief periods of time so he could watch her fly and monitor her eye.
"It had been a couple of months since the owl arrived and even though human interaction was kept to a minimum, the owl received plenty of attention and was dearly loved," the deputy said.
Plessinger, his fiancée, and their children discussed the option of keeping the owl, in the chance she wasn't strong enough to return to the wild.
However, things began to look up for little Owly. She started catching live food, proving she was ready to take the next step and return to the wild.
Shortly thereafter, the Plessinger Family packed up Owly for a "release party" back where it all started: Baytree Beach.
Plessinger said that Owly stayed near the family for five to seven minutes as his children said their goodbyes before she finally made her way back to the woods.
"It was extremely sad to watch her finally fly away but satisfying to know she received a second chance at life on her own terms, not stuck in a box or cage for the rest of her life," Plessinger said.