A Georgia family found out their Christmas tree had one more decoration than they might have hoped last week after they found a little owl living in its branches.
Katie McBride Newman was eating dinner at home with her children, India and Jack, last Thursday when her daughter noticed something strange.
"[India] comes very dramatically into the dining room and goes, 'Mama, that ornament scared me,'" Newman told CNN. "Then she bursts into tears."
It turned out that "ornament" was actually a wild owl. The animal had somehow managed to find its way into the family's Christmas tree, where it was nestling alongside lights, ornaments and other decorations.
Newman told CNN she originally didn't believe her daughter had seen anything, but after seeing the owl herself, she began posting numerous photos and videos of it to Facebook.
The family began trying to help the owl return to the wild, leaving all of their windows open that night in hopes that the animal would fly away. When it didn't, they called the Chattahoochee Nature Center, a non-profit environmental education facility located just outside of Atlanta.
One of the center's employees recommended they tried feeding the owl some chicken, a task the family also documented on Facebook.
An employee from the nature center later came to the Newmans' house and identified the creature as an Eastern screech owl. According to the Georgia Department of Natural resources, Eastern screeches are the state's most prominent species of owl, with the animals commonly making their homes in both "rural and suburban areas."
The employee also helped feed the owl, which Newman said was "a little lean." They also advised that the family put the owl inside a crate and release it at "twilight."
"Now we wait for the outcome of OwlGate," Newman said in a Facebook post, sharing photos of her husband leaving the crate outside their house in hopes that the owl would fly off.
Ultimately, the animal took off, leaving only one mystery behind "OwlGate" — how did the animal get there in the first place? Newman told CNN they had bought their tree more than a week before finding the creature, adding that it was possible it had been hiding in there for that entire time.
No matter how it got in there, the family seemed to have nothing but positive feelings about their holiday visitor — despite the initial shock of discovering it.
"The Final Chapter: Bye bye, birdie. Thank you for the honor you bestowed on our family — for making the magic and mystery of advent come alive in our home, and for inspiring connection among all who followed the adventure," Newman wrote on Facebook Saturday night. "God's peace to you as you make your new home outside our home. We hope to see you again... And to all a good night."