An office that typically promotes the news at Duke found itself at the center of an emerging story ready to take flight late last week.
Kristen Brown, associate vice president for News & Communications, contacted the Facilities Management Department (FMD) on Wednesday, Feb. 22, to report a strange noise coming from inside a fireplace chimney in her office at 614 Chapel Drive.
Randy Orange, an FMD building coordinator, sent a crew to inspect the fireplace flue. After observing a bunch of leaves that appeared to be a nest, they scheduled a technician from Critter Control to come out the following morning.
“We first thought it was a squirrel nest,” he said. “We hoped that by making some noise, we would see it scurry out the top.”
Chris Sisk, a technician from Critter Control, arrived on Thursday morning began pulling some leaves out to determine what animal was in the chimney.
“He said, ‘It’s an owl.’ And I just said, ‘No way!’” Orange said.
Extracting an owl from a chimney was a first for Orange and Sisk.
“Occasionally, we’ll be called to remove a bat or catch an opossum or raccoon,” Orange said. “But this was our first owl. He appeared to be stuck. We definitely didn’t want to hurt him. We wanted to get him out safely.”
After a couple of attempts to encourage the owl to fly out the top of the chimney, Sisk was able to insert an extension arm with a clamp to safely pull the owl down through the fireplace.
Once on the ground, the owl flew up to a table in the office and then flew toward daylight. Unfortunately, the owl’s first effort was directly into a window. But Orange got the bird’s attention and directed the owl to a door that led directly outside. The bird flew off safely into nearby woods.
Laura Brinn, director of marketing and communications, was meeting in an adjacent conference room when she saw the end of the drama playing out. She grabbed her phone to investigate the situation.
“I just saw a huge bird fly out of your office,” she said to Brown in a text message.
Brown had been waiting in another office while Orange and Sisk worked behind the closed door of her office to extract the owl from the chimney. But once the bird was free, the jokes began to take flight, too.
“I assume he was here to drop off my letter to Hogwarts,” Brown said afterward. “And someone else asked me if we got to the bottom of the question, how many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop?”
It may have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because Facilities crews returned on Friday to install a wire screen over the top of the chimney to ensure the owl would not return to take up residence again.
WATCH the owl rescue.