The snowy owl's first attempt to get back into the air didn't go particularly well.
At Shades of Hope Wildlife Refuge, a big part of the recovery process for raptors, like this majestic owl, involves flying from one post to another at the facility's 100-foot flyway in Pefferlaw, Ontario.
"We just toss them in the air and see if they can make it to the other end from perch to perch," Shades of Hope founder Gail Lenters tells MNN. "They will fly back and forth and we'll just make sure they can get aloft and they're not just scooching along the ground."
Let's just say this owl did more scooching than soaring.
It seemed an unused soccer net in Pickering, Ontario, had won the day.
That's where, back in November, the owl was found by volunteers with Team Chelsea, a group usually focused on finding lost pets.
He wasn't the first bird caught in the clutches of unused netting.
Wildlife advocates have long railed against leaving soccer nets up when no one is actually playing on the fields.
But Stu Johnson of Team Chelsea managed to get the struggling bird out of that tangled web — and into the care of Shades of Hope.
"He had some abrasions and feather damage, especially on his wings," Lenters says. "He was highly stressed."
After getting the treatment he needed, the owl seemed about ready for his first test flight — which he didn't quite pass.
But no one was ready to give up on him. Little by little, the errant traveller found his wings. And soon, he was transferred to the Owl Foundation, a group dedicated to getting owls back into the wild.
A couple more weeks of strength training and conditioning followed and then came that fateful moment.
Johnson, the man who first found the tangled bird, stood with him again in a field earlier this week.
He hoped to see the last of this owl.
And the owl didn't let him down.
"We live for these moments," Lenters says.
But there are other moments, unfortunately, that rescuers wish they didn't have to see.
Like the countless birds they take in during the winter months not only after run-ins with soccer nets, but also collisions with cars.
"We have so many owls coming in through the winter because these guys are hunting along our roadsides," Lenters explains. "Most of them are here because of collisions with something human — typically cars and trucks. And that's all because of the stuff we leave out there. Like garbage. Owls and hawks are hunting roadside. And they focus on the prey. They don't see anything else.
"Many raptors are nailed because of that."
But some, like this snowy owl, learn to soar again with more than a wing and a prayer — including the compassion and care of humans who live to see them fly again.