A burrowing owl scored a weeks-long tropical vacation after stowing away on a Royal Caribbean cruise.
Officials with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission finally captured the bird in January.
Despite being ocean-bound for weeks, the bird appeared to be in good health, officials said.
A burrowing owl unwittingly boarded a Caribbean cruise ship earlier this year, scoring himself a two-week tropical vacation before wildlife officials rescued the fugitive flyer and ended his unpaid getaway.
Passengers onboard Royal Caribbean International’s Symphony of the Seas started spotting the bird around the ship in January, according to a Facebook post from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
The owl could be seen all around the massive boat, which is the second largest cruise ship in the world, perching on exit signs, hiding in planters, and overseeing group activities from sky-high railings, the agency said. The animal was apparently a fan of life’s luxurious treasures — photos from the rescue mission show the owl hanging out above the ship’s Cartier store.
Over the course of at least two weeks, the bird grew increasingly popular, appearing in passengers’ social media posts and eventually prompting the Wildlife Rescue of Dade County to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission about a rescue attempt, Ricardo Zambrano, a wildlife biologist with the state agency told The Washington Post this month.
Zambrano arrived in Miami on January 21, where the ship was briefly docked in between journeys, with trapping nets in tow.
His mission was clear and the countdown was on. Zambrano and cruise crew members only had a one-hour window in between one passenger group disembarking and another arriving for their week-long trip to Mexico to capture the stowaway, the wildlife commission said.
“It was trap-weary and onto us,” Zambrano told the Post. “We had to do it quickly, before passengers came back onboard.”
With the help of crew members, Zambrano placed mist nets around the owl’s perch on an exit door sign, hoping the bird would be scared into flying directly into the enclosure. But two failed attempts later and the owl was still free.
As the rescue team prepared for their third try, the bird flew to a 10th-story balcony, the wildlife commission said. Helpful crew members created a diversion below, making noise to distract the owl as Zambrano snuck up from behind and successfully netted the owl off the railing.
“I got lucky,” he told the Post of his hour-long operation.
The bird’s capture marked the end of his free vacation, which lasted at least two weeks. He was escorted off the ship and had “nothing to claim in customs,” the agency said.
Despite having been ocean-bound for half a month, the bird appeared to be in good health, officials said, though he was transported to the South Florida Wildlife Center as a precaution. Staff members at the center told the Post that the owl was “very skinny” after his cruising ordeal.
Burrowing owls, which are a threatened species in Florida, typically feed on small reptiles, birds, frogs, and rodents; it’s unclear how the bird sustained itself during the cruise or whether it partook in the ship’s all-you-can-eat buffet.
The owl was released on February 18 in Davie, Florida, according to the Post, a mere 25 miles from the terminal that housed its former getaway ship.
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