This year is looking like a Snowy Owl irruption year. There have been many sightings in the Upper Midwest in the last few weeks of juvenile Snowy Owls in the area. They are an arctic bird that will migrate south to the northern Upper Midwest for the winter and they are not commonly found this far south in Minnesota especially this early. Some people are speculating that there is a food shortage and the adults are pushing the juveniles further south in search of food and others believe that there was a lemming population boom this year which resulted in a really successful breeding season, and the juveniles are migrating and spreading further south to find hunting territories for the winter.
A Snowy Owl was spotted by two of Eagle Bluff’s staff, Education Director Sara Sturgis and Public Program Coordinator Megan Duffey, while carpooling home from work. They spotted a white bird on the side of the road and stopped to make sure it was OK, and lo and behold, it was a Snowy Owl! At the time, it was able to fly away and they were unsure if it had an injury. Later that night Eagle Bluff Director Joe Deden received call about an injured Snowy Owl near a local turkey farm.
The next morning, Raptor Program Coordinator Valerie Slocum and Graduate Naturalist and Raptor Handler extraordinaire Colleen Kannen went on an adventure to find the possibly injured Snowy Owl, however it was not seen. On his way back from Rochester, Joe spotted the owl and Valerie and Colleen made their way up just south of Chatfield, MN where the Snowy Owl was sitting in a soybean field.
Unfortunately, it was too easy to capture the owl, Valerie and Colleen were able to walk right up to the owl and pick it up with gloves and a towel.
Upon returning with the owl at Eagle Bluff, Valerie and Colleen did a quick exam checking for injuries, which there weren’t any, however when the keel (breastbone) was felt, it was discovered that the Snowy Owl was severely emaciated. After speaking with a veterinarian who also is a wildlife rehabilitator, the owl was administered fluids every hour for the next several hours before offering it food (when animals are emaciated, it is essential to rehydrate them before giving them solid foods). It was a surprise that the owl survived as long at it did in the shape it was in. If the Snowy Owl survived the night, it would have been transported to the veterinarian the next day. Even though it was in good care at Eagle Bluff, the Snowy Owl unfortunately did not survive the night.
Eagle Bluff doesn’t rehabilitate wild animals, we don’t have the permits or supplies, however we do have captive non-releasable raptors that we use in education programs and like to help out possibly injured wildlife that is found.
Even though this story doesn’t have a happy ending, doesn’t mean that others have to end the same way. If you see injured wildlife, please contact your local DNR office or wildlife rehabilitator (DNR offices usually have information about local rehabbers). If you’re in Minnesota, here is some contact info in case you find an injured animal:
Minnesota DNR – 651-296-5484 or toll-free at 800-657-3929
The Raptor Center in St. Paul – 612-624-4745