The Minnesota man knew there was something seriously awry by the noises coming from the machinery in late 2017. It had been a normal day at the coffee factory, but all that was to change when he decided to investigate. No amount of caffeine could have hyped him up enough to deal with the shock of what he discovered. As he peered inside the industrial equipment, all he could see were two huge, yellowy eyes glaring back at him. Whatever it was that was sitting there in the darkness of the interior, it wasn’t human.
The man in question was Ezra Bennett, a roaster and warehouseman at the Alakef Coffee Company in Duluth, MN. Alakef is Hebrew for “the best,” but that term didn’t describe the unusual noise he heard in the industrial unit that day in November 2017. Bennett was near the end of his shift, but decided to locate the problem. Consequently, he followed the sound until he realized where it was coming from.
Bennett finally tracked down the source of the disturbance. He was surprised to find it emanating from the roasting machine’s chaff collector. This part of the unit’s equipment usually catches coffee ground deposits at the base of the machinery. However, it was to prove that this time it had caught something else entirely. And whatever that thing was, Bennett suspected it was alive.
Bennett described the sound emanating from the equipment as a kind of irreguar “clunking” noise. In December 2017, the factory man spoke to the local Pioneer Press newspaper. “My first thought was there’s a raccoon or something in here,” he explained. “But that’s impossible because the only way it could actually get into there is through the smokestack. The top of the stack is about 30 feet up.”
A sense of professionalism and sheer curiosity got the better of Bennett, so he opened the machine’s lower panel to investigate. Although it was much too dark for him to see much inside the chaff collector, Bennett did catch a fleeting glimpse of something moving. Whatever was causing he commotion in the coffee roasting machinery it was indeed very much alive.
Also in December, Bennett recounted what happened next to the Star Tribune newspaper, which serves the Twin Cities of Minnesota and St. Paul. “I saw feathers, I saw wings, she started flapping,” he recalled. To his amazement, Bennett then realized what was captive in the coffee processing apparatus. As unlikely as it would appear, there was an actual owl trapped in the machine.
Inside the chaff collector was a confined space containing a conical shaped element. The owl had somehow got itself wedged within that space. As a result, the raptor could not get itself out. There was not enough room in there for it to extend its wings, and the owl’s talons could not get purchase on the smooth surface of the cone. Bennett made a wise decision, wary of the risks of attempting to remove the raptor himself. He closed the door on the trapped bird.
Bennett knew that even if he did successfully rescue the powerful predator without harm to himself or the owl, he still faced a problem. The chances of catching a frightened or angry bird in the vastness of the factory and warehouse were slim. For this reason, he decided he needed some expert help. As he told the Pioneer Press, “I hollered at the guys in the main part of [the] production area to call Wildwoods.”
Bennett was referring to the Wildwoods animal rehabilitation organization based elsewhere in Duluth. The charity’s dedicated staff treat sick, injured and abandoned animals with the intention of releasing them back into their natural environment. It all started in 2006, when its founders, Peg and Farzad Farr, took in a baby bird, but the not-for-profit has grown massively since. Indeed, its Facebook page states that it treated more than 1,250 patients a decade later in 2016.
Wildwoods staff member Tara Smith wears several different hats at the organization. As well as being a carer, Smith is also an administrator and events co-ordinator. But it was while she was in the role of what the Wildwoods website calls “phone guru” that Smith spoke to Bennett that day in November 2017. When she initially answered the call, Smith thought the report was a practical joke. As she later told ABC News, “I kind of laughed, and I seriously thought it was a prank call.” But perhaps Bennett’s incredulous tone convinced Smith that he was on the level.
Wildwoods director Farzad Farr wasted no time in driving over to the Alakef Coffee Company premises. When he arrived at the factory, Farr took a similarly no-nonsense approach. What happened next was filmed by one of the coffee company’s employees and later posted to YouTube. Farr took a heavy jute sack which had previously held coffee beans to protect his arms and hands. Then he simply opened the door, reached in and slowly and gently extracted the imprisoned raptor. It was a massive specimen, and despite its confinement it did not seem injured.
The bird was a beautiful white snowy owl, and, judging by its big size, Wildwoods believed it was a female. Bennett wittily dubbed her Mocha. This is in recognition of the Yemeni port of the same name, which is famous for its coffee. And, perhaps in an ironic comment on her white feathers, the chocolatey variation on the caffè latte. However, the snowy owl breed itself has found recognition somewhere else entirely of late.
As J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise has become ever more famous, snowy owls like Mocha have apparently soared in popularity. Harry Potter’s famous pet snowy owl, Hedwig, has inspired many fans to take on the breed domestically. However, wild snowy owls such as Mocha are normally found in arctic regions. So fetching up in Duluth meant that Mocha was a long way from home.
However, snowy owls are known to sometimes visit North America as part of their movement of mass migration – otherwise known as irruption. The reason for the raptors’ presence in U.S. airspace is to hunt for food. But somehow Mocha managed to find some coffee instead. Farr can only guess as to how she came to be trapped in the factory apparatus, the reason is still far from clear.
“I don’t know why it went down the venting system. I have no idea,” Farr told the Star Tribune. “Maybe sat on the edge and then fell in? It’s not like they’re chimney dwellers.” Whatever the cause, Farr and his colleagues at Wildwoods reported a “huge number increase of snowy owls” in the area.
Mocha appeared to be physically undamaged by her adventure in the coffee roasting machine, but she was skinny and covered in residue from the chaff collector. Consequently, Farr took her back to Wildwoods to look after the owl, and find her something suitable to eat that wasn’t coffee related. There was, however, one positive consequence of Mocha getting trapped in the coffee factory…
“[She] is probably the best-smelling owl I have ever encountered,” Smith joked to ABC News about the first time she met the raptor, back at the Wildwoods H.Q. She added, “As soon as the crate came in, it was this heavenly aroma of coffee.” Furthermore, Mocha was now in safe, caring hands, and the snowy owl was treated like a queen by workers at the animal sanctuary.
Apparently, after a short stay with Wildwoods, Mocha was on the move again. She was transferred to the more specialized Raptor Center at the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine in St. Paul. Once there, avian experts cared for Mocha and washed her free of coffee and oil. She was also given something precious to any migrating snowy owl – a good meal.
Jeff Harrison, an Alakef Coffee Company employee who was present for the rescue, provided an update in the comments below the YouTube clip in December 2017. “She is doing fine after getting all of the coffee cleaned off,” he wrote. “[Mocha] is now enjoying the stay at the owl spa, recovering some weight that she had lost ([she was] likely… lacking food up in the Arctic, which… is how the owl ended up in Duluth in the first place).”
Harrison went on to explain that there is no way Mocha had been trapped in the factory for more than a day. He also described how the chaff collector is completely separate to the coffee grinder in the factory’s machinery. Therefore, there is no danger that anyone will suffer the sensation of spitting feathers while drinking their Alakef Coffee Company product. Thankfully, no owls were harmed during the making of any of its blends.