There are all kinds of Christmas gifts. Karen Bush got a unique one a few years ago.

One bright December night, she was driving home from a visit with her mother in Atlanta. She had the sunroof (moonroof?) open with three feet of a large Christmas tree protruding into the cool night air.

It was about 10:30 p.m. when she reached the St. George Island bridge. An animal lover; Karen had just congratulated herself on not seeing a single dead animal beside the road over the entire trip. She was excited and happy to be home.

Suddenly, something hit the side of her car. She was aware of large wings and thought it must be an owl.

Halfway across the bridge, she did a U-turn and returned to where the accident had occurred, driving on the wrong side of the road for the last few yards.

In her high beams, she saw an owl lying in the road. She got out of the car for a closer look. The bird was motionless.

“It was a barred owl, but I didn’t know that then. He was on his back,” said Karen. “It was as if he was asleep and he was beautiful. I had to go to work across that bridge the next morning and I didn’t want to see him after he had been run over by five or six cars and torn to shreds.”

Karen could see headlight approaching and she had to make a decision. Crying, she picked the owl up and its head lolled limply. Its neck was obviously broken. With the owl lying across her lap, she turned around and drove towards the island. She had almost reached the highpoint in the bridge, when she felt something gripping her left leg. It was not painful but the grasp felt tight through her blue jeans.

Karen pulled onto the shoulder as far as she could and switched on the cab light. The owl was perched on her left leg with its body facing the window and its head rotated 180 degrees to stare at her.

“Karen said, “He was calmly sitting there staring at me. My first thought was thank God he’s alive. Then I thought is he hurt? I realized I couldn’t let him go on the bridge where we were because if he was hurt he might fly into the water and drown. I did another U-turn and drove slowly back to the Eastpoint end of the bridge.

“As I drove back at about 20 miles per hour, I talked to him in baby talk. I said ‘Please, don’t hurt me. It’s OK.’ I knew you were supposed to cover the face so they wouldn’t panic so I held my arms together as I drove so he couldn’t see me.”

Karen pulled onto the shoulder again at the site where she had first encountered the owl. He remained unmoved staring inscrutably at her.

“I didn’t have gloves on and I was most worried he would attack my hands. I reached over and pressed the button to lower the car window. The noise from the electric motor frightened him and he went further back into the car, landing on the Christmas tree. His right wing was folded into place fine but his left wing was spread out, hung up on the tree. He was still staring at me. I thought he had a broken wing. Now what should I do? I wondered. Finally I lifted the wing off the tree and it pulled back into place. It was fine. He continued to stare at me sitting on the tree. Then he turned his head and flew out of the sun roof and into the woods.

“I was crying because I was so happy.  I thought I had to call somebody and tell them because, in the morning, I wouldn’t even believe myself.  Finally I reached my oldest son who is an animal lover and I told him sobbing the whole time.

“’Why are you crying?’ he asked me.’

“Because I’m happy I told him.”

Karen has felt a special affinity for owls since her experience. She wonders if it was a sign from someone she loves.

“I felt it was a sign,” she said. “I don’t know what it meant but I got the message loud and clear.”

This story was a real Christmas miracle and had a very happy ending.

Chris Beatty of the Florida Wild Mammal Association advises anyone who encounters an injured owl, eagle or hawk to remember its feet are the biggest threat. Always wrap the animal, including the face, in a towel or piece of clothing and get it into a cardboard box as soon as possible. Do not allow anyone to try and hold it.

If a bird has suffered a head injury and regains consciousness, try to take it to a rehabilitation center anyway as blindness can result from a concussion and may become permanent.