By KENDRA MEINERT, Green Bay Press-Gazette
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — What a snowy owl was doing in the city will forever remain a mystery. Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary is just grateful the injured animal landed in their care.
The young female was spotted Jan. 20 by a concerned citizen on Quincy Street, far from the open fields and shores where the tall, majestic snowies hunt rodents during Wisconsin winters and delight anyone lucky enough to catch a glimpse.
“Hearing it was on Quincy Street was really surprising,” said Lori Bankson, animal curator at the 600-acre Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary. “Something drew her there, that she followed the river and somehow got to the east side. However she got there, it’s unusual.
The owl, transported to the sanctuary’s R-PAWS rehabilitation program by Green Bay Police Department animal control officer Mallory Meves, had a broken wrist. In a bird, the wrist is one of the joints where the wing bends. Think of your own wrist or elbow.
How the injury occurred is unknown. Snowy owls are diurnal hunters, so they come out during the day. It’s possible that while she was so focused on the hunt, she dove and hit something, like a building, got blown against something by the winds, or something hit her in flight, reports the Green. Bay Press-Gazette.
It cannot be ruled out that she was not hit by a car, but as there is no evidence of internal injuries or bruising, it does not appear that she suffered the major impact of a vehicle, Bankson said. They were also able to rule out that she was attacked by another animal, as there were no puncture wounds.
She underwent lengthy surgery performed by Dr. Amelia Gessner-Knepel, a veterinarian at Gentle Vet Animal Hospital, on January 25 to try to get the bones back into alignment.
Snowy owls travel great distances, from their nesting sites above the Arctic Circle in summer to Wisconsin and other parts of the northern United States in winter in search of food. The strength of this wrist is therefore crucial for navigation and migration.
“That’s the biggest concern we have right now with this wrist injury is to make sure we’re doing everything we can to try to heal it and to make sure it’s strong enough for it to maneuver. in narrow places, not just for long migrations, but for hunting as well,” Bankson said.
His age, estimated at a few years depending on the quality and thickness of his feathers, will work in his favor, but his “prognosis is reserved”. Bankson expects them to have a better grip in a few weeks as she recovers from surgery and anesthesia, and longer before she finds out if she can be released back into the wild.
“It’s going to be at least two months for his recovery and treatment before we really know anything about a release prognosis,” she said.
She is currently taking pain and infection medication. Bay Beach staff and R-PAW volunteers ensure that she receives an ice pack once or twice a day to relieve swelling and pain after the operation and that her wound is cleaned and the bandages are changed.
Because she is still weak, she is hand-fed. She receives a paste from a tube that can be inserted into her crop (the small pouch at the base of a bird’s esophagus) and stomach so that the food can be easily absorbed without expending much energy for the digest. Think of the owl equivalent of an Ensure drink for humans in the hospital.
To get her the nutrients she needs from other food sources, they also thaw frozen mice purchased from a birds of prey supplier and cut them into bite-size pieces she can swallow. It also helps keep its natural prey instincts sharp.
Already “a big girl” at 2000 grams, or about 4 pounds, 4 ounces, as she gets stronger she will be able to move up to whole but dead mice and rats.
But for now, rest is key. This means the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign is off as she moves back out of public view.
“Because she’s such a reclusive animal, we want to make sure she’s in a low-stress environment. That it’s nice and calm for her,” Bankson said. ‘She has to do is rest and heal, and we will provide her with the food and everything she needs to be healthy and not in pain.’
Less than a week after the operation, Bankson reports that the patient is quite “feisty.”
The Bay Beach Wildlife Rehabilitation Program receives up to 6,000 orphaned or injured animals a year brought in by the public, but only one or two snowy owls, and usually from rural areas, said Bankson, who works at the sanctuary. for 24 years.
Wisconsin as a whole is seeing more owls this winter. The 2021-22 season is a breakout year for snowies in the state. As of Jan. 4, wildlife watchers reported 143 birds in Wisconsin, more than double the number in each of the past three winters, according to the Department of Natural Resources. It’s the first outbreak – when large numbers of owls move south from their arctic breeding grounds – in Wisconsin since 2017-18, when 280 snowfalls were documented in the state.
This time of year is most noticeable in Wisconsin, Bankson said. Once they sense the change in weather as temperatures warm, they migrate following the snowmelt line north to Canada and the Arctic, where snow is essential for their camouflage. Migration usually begins around the end of February.
It’s not hard to see why people are fascinated by snows. The popularity of the Harry Potter books and movies might have something to do with it – Harry’s owl, Hedwig, is a snowy one – but they’re also an incredible sight in nature.
“They are particularly breathtaking when you see them flying during the day in the snow. They have such sharp eyesight, and then they can have those nice big eyes to see, whether it’s day or night,” Bankson said. “Experiencing an owl at night really moves you because it’s not only this ferocious predator, but it can also be so gentle and just find a little hollow to stay.”
A single Bay Beach Facebook post about the injured snowy owl sparked an outpouring of public support, including monetary donations to the R-PAWS program for its care.
“People were really supportive of this owl,” Bankson said. “So many donations have come in to help, and we’re so grateful.”
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