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Meet Dorito, the red screech owl with a damaged wing who found a home at a South Dakota zoo

Dorito, a red screech owl, will soon be on display at the Bramble Park Zoo in Watertown. Courtesy of Olivia Wulf / Bramble Park Zoo

WATERTOWN, S.D. — A new member of the Bramble Park Zoo family will be introduced to the public soon: a red screech owl named Dorito.

Dorito came from the yard of an Aberdeen resident, who found it with an injured wing in November. The bird was turned over to the Watertown zoo’s raptor rehabilitation center with hopes of nursing it back to health and releasing it back into the wild. But the wing didn’t quite heal properly, so Dorito will be put on exhibit there.

The timing could not have been better. Until recently, the zoo had a pair of Eastern screech owls, named Axl and Rose. Axl is a gray screech owl, common to the Midwest, but Rose was a red screech owl, which are common in the Southeastern United States and somewhat of a rarity this far north. Rose, however, sustained an injury a few months ago and died, leaving Axl all alone and sending zookeeper John Gilman on a nationwide search for a new red screech owl.

Gilman put out the word on the bird rehab network that Bramble Park Zoo was in need of a replacement for Rose but was having no luck finding one.

That’s when he got a call from Ben Krueger, of Aberdeen, who had an injured red screech owl.

“It had been nesting in his yard and was apparently a popular attraction with local birders up there,” Gilman said. “He found it sitting in his yard, unable to fly, and got in touch with us.”

Gilman wanted to get the bird healthy enough to return to the wild, but that didn’t happen.

“The goal is always to release them again, but the wing is still pretty droopy,” he said. “It all worked out pretty well for us.”

Zookeeper Olivia Wulf took the new owl under her wing and cared for it since its arrival. Screech owls feed on mice and songbirds, with occasional crickets and moths.

“Screech owls are very common across the United States and Canada,” Gilman said. “You usually find them in towns – they like wooded areas, especially pine trees.”

Gilman said Rose was a popular bird at the zoo, and he’s thrilled to get another one.

“Everybody loved Rose,” he said. “We’ll give Dorito and Axl a while to get acquainted, and then they will be available for the public to enjoy.”