Meet Ragin' and Cajun: Baby owls rescued from Louisiana baseball stadium
Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, March 31, 2021
Picking the names was easy: Ragin’ and Cajun.
The bigger challenge was rescuing two great horned owls hatched at the Ragin’ Cajuns’ baseball stadium, M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field at Russo Park.
But that was the task Cajuns fan Mamie Russo, UL athletics administrator John Dugas and wildlife rehab specialist Letitia Labbie tackled when two fledgling birds of prey left their nest before Cajuns games against Coastal Carolina.
Late last week, Dugas got word from Cajuns assistant coach Jake Wells.
“He said, ‘There’s this really mean looking bird next to the dugout; what do we do?’ ” said Dugas, UL’s longtime associate director for athletic facilities and event management. “I said, ‘Oh, man, one of the owls must have fallen out the nest.’ ”
Some Cajun coaches, including Wells, and players weren’t even aware owls were nesting at the stadium.
But with one of the babies on the ground, concerns ranged from its well-being to what the great horned parents might do to protect it.
“All of a sudden Coach Wells walks in (the locker room) and he goes, ‘Those talons have, like 900 pounds of force. They’d rip your face off,’ ” first baseman Ben Fitzgerald said.
“I’m like, ‘What is going on?’ Then we go out to practice, and there’s the owl in the corner. Everyone had pictures of it.”
It’s a Cajuns family affair
Late last year, Dugas noticed nest building activity at the stadium.
“It looked like something more than just typical pigeon nests,” he said.
“Then we noticed … on the opposite corner, a same type of nest, but not as many sticks.”
One was a birthing center for Ragin’ and Cajun; the other was their daddy’s hangout.
“The man cave,” Dugas joked.
Oddly, the nest – probably an old crow’s nest claimed by the two parents, since, Labbie said, great horned owls don’t build their own – was attached to an audio system speaker high atop a seating area behind home plate.
“Usually … loud noises will cause them to not want to be there,” Labbie said, “but not with these guys. They just adapted.”
By January, it was evident the mama owl was tending to her offspring in the makeshift nest and the male great horned was the family provider.
Dugas said he noticed one day that, “It had something hanging from its beak.”
“I guess we’ve got a killer owl hanging out maybe,” Fitzgerald said.
“I’m not gonna speculate what it was,” Dugas added, “but he went out and captured some live animal or something.”
From mice to who-knows-what-else, the father had been hunting food to nurture the family.
In February, with the start of U’'s season fast-approaching, the two babies could be seen in the nest.
“My concern was, ‘How long is this going to go on? Are they just going to fly away? What’s gonna happen?’ ” Dugas said.
Plenty of worries
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries advised that the nest couldn’t be disturbed, and Dugas was assured that one day he’d show up to the park and the owls would be gone.
But there was a season to be played.
The Cajuns beat Louisiana Tech in their home opener, lost to LSU, then swept an opening home weekend series in late February against Rice, whose sports teams coincidentally are nicknamed the Owls.
“They had fans here,” Dugas joked.
The last one to leave that night was the one of the parents, who – from the press box – was spotted coming out of the nest to look over the empty stadium before flying off to centerfield.
Nearly a month later, when the couple’s first baby landed near the dugout, able to glide a bit but not really fly, Dugas looked into the piercing yellow eyes of Ragin’, all 16 or so inches of him, and couldn’t start making phone calls fast enough.
First he tried Lafayette Animal Control, which referred him to a local veterinary clinic, which in turn suggested he call Labbie, founder of Acadiana Wildlife & Rehabilitation, a tax-exempt non-profit charitable organization in Youngsville.
She was working her regular job at a local high school at the time and was unavailable to help right away. Enter Russo, a nature photography hobbyist who’d been taking pictures of the owls from her seat in one of the suites at the stadium that bears her family surname.
She volunteered to help Dugas, following Labbie’s detailed instructions, capture the owl and help get it to safety.
“I said, ‘Well, I can do it; tell me what to do,’ ” Russo said. “I was (nervous), but I was so full of excitement.”
A leery Dugas left it all to her.
“He said, ‘That baby better not come after me,’ ” Russo said.
“She said, ‘Keep the mama owl off of me,’ ” Dugas said. “I’m like, ‘I’ll see what I can do.’ ”
Using towels while Dugas filmed the adventure, Russo was able to contain young Ragin’. Fortunately, the mother was not nearby.
“(Labbie) told me exactly how to just throw (the towel) over it,” said Russo, who named the two babies. “I was able to scoop it up and bring it a local vet.”
The vet in turn got it to Labbie, who already had four other rehabbing owls – three fledglings and a foster parent – on her Youngsville property.
Ragin' and Cajun reunite
Late Sunday morning, a few hours before the Cajuns were to play the Chanticleers again, Dugas arrived at the ballpark to find a problem.
There was the second baby, Cajun, perched on a table in Section 105.
Soon, he, or she – it’s hard to tell, Labbie said, without a DNA test – glided to the bottom of Section 106.
“I’m like, ‘Well, this could be bad,’ ” Dugas said. “ ‘Now, we’ve got to catch him, because he can’t do this with people in here.’ ”
This time Labbie was able to come over immediately.
“When (Dugas) called me and told me that it’s in a stadium where games are being played, people are coming and going, so it’s not a really safe situation … we went ahead and made the decision to capture that one,” said Labbie, a federally permitted wildlife rehabilitator.
“Teams were showing up, kids were showing up, (stadium work) crews were showing up, so I went ahead and made the call to remove that baby also.”
Soon, Ragin’ and sibling Cajun were reunited.
Their parents were nowhere to be seen over the weekend, but may still visit the stadium from time to time looking for both.
Labbie is rehabbing the youngsters in Youngsville until they can survive in the wild, which may not happen until November, and Cajun fans are raising funds (donations can be made during games at the stadium, or online at www.acadianawildlife.org) to help Labbie pay for the cost of their care.
Dugas, meanwhile, is happy to know Ragin’ and Cajun are in good hands – and that they’re safely out of his hair.
“As fun as this was,” he said, “I am really relieved it’s over, because I guarantee I was losing sleep over this.”
Great horned owls Ragin' and Cajun hang out in their nest with one of their parents.