Pinkey’s Story


(these links are Pinkey’s own internal website – check it out!)

Pinkey’s story, as we see it:

Pinkey was a cute, goofy screech owl baby, brought to Clyde Hollifield for rehabilitation in the late spring of 2005. Clyde – who has rehabbed many raptors over the years and who rehabbed his own injured dog, Dr. Willie – was trained and certified to do this work.  He is also quite creative in his tactics.

Though he and Pinkey shared an unusually strong bond, Clyde knew he could never let Pinkey become a “pet”.  Clyde taught him to hunt and set up a “soft release” to be sure that Pinkey – not the most serious and mature of young owls – could really make it on his own.

Little Bit & PinkeyWe were able to film Pinkey while he was still fully in rehab and later with his wilder friend Little Bit, who never formed a bond with Clyde, after they were both released.  Pinkey continued to return to Clyde’s porch for almost four months to get reassuring chats and occasional snacks from his “Mama Clyde” (isn’t that just like a teenager?). The visits became less and less frequent until Pinkey was truly independent. Though he could have lost his freedom by being “manned down,” both he and Clyde were committed to his true nature: WILD!

Here is Pinkey’s story, as he and Clyde remember it:  A little owl in trouble

It was black as a bottle of ink the night baby Pinkey fell out of the owl nest.  His first exposure to the big wide world was cold and wet.  Even though his parents tried to help him, foolish Pinkey flapped farther and farther from home and hearth.  Within a couple of days he was in real danger of dying from starvation and cold….

Pinkey close, looking up

Strangers to the rescue

The hungry little owl wandered into a thicket and cried like an elf having his leg twisted.  Luckily, a passing giant heard his miserable sobs.  He would soon learn that these strange-looking giants were called humans.  Pinkey was scooped up in the giant’s warm talons and carried away to a huge moving nest called a car.  Pinkey’s rescue and rehabilitation had begun.

The car smelled of strange and unfamiliar odors as a frightened Pinkey huddled in a towel on the seat beside the human lady.  A thing called a radio made ungodly noises and had it not been for the soothing sound of the lady’s voice, Pinkey would have died of fright.  He stared out from large yellow eyes as she explained that she was taking him to a nature center where he would get care and food.

Food – that sounded great.  He could just imagine juicy worms, wiggling crickets, and warm mice like his mom had always provided, but how would he ever learn to provide these things for himself?   Living in the nest with his fuzzy siblings, Pinkey had never seen his parents hunt and had no idea where food came from… or just how one came into possession of a live mouse.   Warm for the first time in days, the scruffy, wet owl fell asleep and dreamed of home, nest, parents, and food.

Suddenly the car stopped and Pinkey was snatched up by the lady, who he was beginning to trust a bit, and taken into a very large hollow tree that was perfectly square and brightly lit.  Once inside, Pinkey was placed on a table and closely examined by another human. Then he was placed in a small cage and given fresh water, succulent earthworms and a welcome lump of fresh meat.  This was the first time he had accepted food from anyone but his mom, but his hunger overcame his caution and he ate like the ravenous omnivore that he was.

Who/what is Clyde?

Just before Pinkey fell into the most restful sleep he had had in days, he overheard the humans talking about sending him to something called Clyde.  The next morning when he cracked a cautious eye just a tiny bit to examine his surroundings, he saw all sorts of other birds in similar small cages: there were songbirds, a scary red-tailed hawk with a bad wing, a stinky old black turkey vulture with a broken leg, and a full grown screech owl in the next cage.  Pinkey called to him in his best raspy baby owl voice and begged for food, but the adult only turned towards him, exposing an injured bloodshot eye.

As Pinkey was wondering just how all these birds had been injured and if the humans were to blame, some of those very humans entered the room.  They came directly to his cage door and peered in like rude uneducated louts.  Pinkey swelled up to his biggest little size and stared back defiantly.  A huge hand reached in and swept him up to eye level with the ugliest human of them all.  The others called him Clyde and it quickly became apparent that Clyde intended to take Pinkey home with him.

A new home, for a while – rehab begins

Pinkey taking food, fussingLater Pinkey could hardly remember the ride to Clyde’s home, deep in the dark forest of Appalachia, where he was placed in something called a cage near the human home.  It was big and he could see chickens outside and hear the wild birds in the trees…

As soon as Pinkey was settled in and offered fresh tasty grasshoppers, Clyde began to explain in broken owl language exactly what rehab was.  Pinkey found out that he was expected to exercise daily, study hard at learning to hunt and adjust to all kinds of new foods.  The schooling began immediately when Clyde placed a live grasshopper in the cage and Pinkey was expected to catch it.  And so it went day after day: sleep, wake early, do flying exercises, try to catch live food, and spend the wild nights listening to the sounds of the mother forest.  Pinkey began to feel that Clyde was now his mother, and Clyde felt a special connection, too.

A new friend and competition: a little girl owl!

One evening as Pinkey was just rousing from a hard day’s sleep, Clyde arrived with a great surprise.  Another screech owl was put into HIS cage.  It was a younger orphaned female named Little Bit.  And thus Pinkey learned that he was not the only young owl needing help.

Little Bit, cautious with Clyde

Pinkey and Little Bit grew close like original nest mates and often slept huddled together, in spite of their very different, strong personalities.  Pinkey was messy and silly, with poor grooming skills and an unabashed fondness for Clyde; Little Bit was all business – neat, prim, serious and cautious.

Even though she was younger, Little Bit was wilder than Pinkey and soon surpassed him in hunting training. Together they began to master the art of catching live prey, but hunting inside a closed cage is easy compared to what they would have to do soon.  Would they make it once they were freed into the big wide world where bugs and mice run away from nice little owls?

Clyde explained that the two friends would be given something called a soft release.  Clyde would continue to provide bits of food while Pinkey and Little Bit hunted on their own.  To Pinkey, food was the most important thing in the whole universe – what a relief!

One evening just before dark, Clyde came as usual to feed the owls, but he left the food just outside the cage door, propped open with a stick.  At first Pinkey cried and begged to be hand fed but Clyde insisted that they both come out of the cage and feed themselves.  Cautious as a scared child on the first day of school, Pinkey put a single toe outside the cage.  Then Little Bit pushed him aside, flew to the food and gobbled it up before flying up to a tree branch.  Pinkey learned that the early bird gets the worm….

Pinkey after release

The release: learning to be home in the wild

On June 29, 2005, Pinkey was released back into the wild after a successful rehabilitation.  His cage mate Little Bit was released on July 18.  Over the next few weeks Clyde continued to put out food each evening near the cage.  Pinkey would call – and sometimes whine – for Clyde from the woods, and Clyde would answer with the same kind of call.  Little Bit came along but mostly stayed back, scolding, when Pinkey came close to get food and chat with Clyde.

All the while, the two teenage owls honed their hunting skills in the dark forest.  Little Bit was naturally better at it than Pinkey.  By watching her and sharing in her kills, Pinkey slowly learned to acquire his own food.

The two young raptors grew bolder and more proficient as hunters.  They would call to each other from the bushes to coordinate their hunt as Clyde answered with encouragements from the porch.  It was becoming less and less necessary to return to the porch for food.

Little Bit was the first to make the leap to self-sufficiency.  Pinkey would return often to talk to Clyde and take a bit of food, much to Little Bit’s disdain.  On one such visit, Clyde explained to Pinkey that it was time for him to hunt for himself.  It was a hard thing when Clyde stopped leaving bits of food out by the cage and Pinkey actually had to feed himself like a REAL wild screech owl.

Pinkey in bambooPinkey still called to Clyde from the darkness most nights, just to let him know that all was well. Then, one November night he followed Little Bit far into the dark forest to start life on his own, forever away from dependency on humans.  Pinkey and Little Bit are now part of the screech owl gene pool…and they have as good a chance as any owl to make it.

Would we ever know what happened?  Perhaps they would mate and stay together…or he would find another mate.  Maybe he’ll come back to visit, when he’s got his own children, so he can show them off to Grandma Clyde!

Postscript from a free bird

See our Appalachian storyteller Clyde’s emails and the night vision video with Princess for a glimpse into Pinkey’s life in the wild, after his release.


Clyde Hollifield, AKA “dirt”, lives on a farm in the Western North Carolina mountains, southeast of Asheville, with his wife Adrienne, three dogs (Willie, George and Pippin), several chickens, trout in the pond, and until the end of March 2007, the periodic raptors he rehabilitated (mostly screech owls). Clyde is a gifted inventor, storyteller, artist, puppeteer, wise woodsman and Renaissance man.

You can help orphaned or injured wildlife in many ways: by supporting educational and rehabilitation programs in your area;  by learning about how you might become a wildlife rehabilitator yourself; by helping organizations protecting habitat; by donating to Little Pearls to help us get Pinkey’s story out to the public.

Everyone can do something to ensure that our children will always have wildlife to enjoy, and that wildlife can live as they are meant to live – healthy, wild and free!