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Lt Chris Patrick and the exhausted owl
Lt Chris Patrick and the baby Scops owl
Lt Chris Patrick and the Scops owl

The owl and the pussycat went to sea in HMS Illustrious

Published: 02 Oct 2013

It may not have been a pea green boat but an owl has definitely gone to sea in a steely grey warship. And the pussy cat has slightly bigger claws in the shape of Cougar 13 – the Royal Navy’s annual workout of the Response Force Task Group operating in the Mediterranean and Gulf.

It was during their busy operations and while working off the coast of Yemen that eagle-eyed sailors on board HMS Illustrious spotted a tiny owl cowering under the ship’s crane on the flight deck.

Leading Airmen Mikaele Mua picked up the exhausted bird which was then passed to the ship’s weather man (Meteorology Forecaster) Lieutenant Chris Patrick – an avid ‘twitcher’ and dedicated member of the Royal Naval Bird Watching Society.

Chris, 44 from Weymouth, immediately identified it as a Eurasian Scops Owl and knew this species would be migrating south towards Sub-Saharan Africa around this time of year.

Chris said:

“It was clear the poor little thing had literally run out of steam, it must have seen the ship and took refuge.

"It looked as though it was simply waiting to die.”

Chris knew the small bird stood no chance of survival if it remained out on the deck where the temperature had been averaging well over forty degrees Celsius.

He was also acutely aware that the wind was due to increase significantly and change direction away from land which would prevent the owl from getting back to safety.

He therefore decided to take the creature to his cabin where the he made a comfortable cage, gave it water and tried to feed it small pieces of meat to build up its strength.

After just two days, improvements in the bird’s condition were clearly apparent as it became more alert and even tried to fly in Chris’s cabin, which is a mere two by three metres in size.

Chris then used his meteorological skills to predict when the weather would be favourable to release the bird to allow it to make it back to dry land. He said:

“I knew that the owl needed to eat live food that it had caught itself. With no insects or bugs onboard HMS Illustrious, it was clear to me I needed to get it ashore as soon as it was fit enough.

"The opportunity arose when the ship neared the Omani coastline.”

After giving the owl a final check, Chris then released him into the skies under Operation Free Bird to Shore.

Chris said:

“The bird looked in good condition when it left and it was heading to shore with the prevailing winds. We all hope it made the journey safely.”

HMS Illustrious is the UK’s high readiness amphibious assault carrier. Based in Portsmouth, “Lusty” as she is affectionately known by her ship’s company is part of the Royal Navy’s Response Force Task Group which is deployed on Cougar 13.

This includes exercises and operations with forces from a wide variety of other countries in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, Horn of Africa and Gulf.

The aim is to show the UK Armed Forces’ capacity to project an effective maritime component anywhere in the world.

The RFTG is the United Kingdom’s high readiness maritime force, comprising ships, submarines, aircraft and a landing force of Royal Marines, to act in response at short notice to any contingency tasking if required by government.


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