Since December 2011, Raptor Recovery Nebraska has been trying to help a very few of the errant Snowy Owls survive after their arrival from their normal Arctic haunts.
Only four of the 16 owls received thus far this winter - through early February - are still alive, said Betsy Finch, director of the group with its headquarters in Elmwood.
There have been nearly 200 reported sightings of this species in Nebraska, during this period.
"We haven't had a fat one yet," Finch said in regards to the weight of the owls received through a state-wide network of volunteers who typically care for injured, resident raptors. The birds have been emaciated and weighed two pounds or less, Finch said. Their normal weight is twice this amount. They have been found to be suffering from maladies including starvation, feather mites, or an injury.
Two of the birds have pins in a wing bone, after having been hit by a car, Finch said.
"The owls we are caring for are eating and doing better," she said. "Snowy owls with the best chance to survive end up in the hands of rehabilitators."
The birds being cared for at the group's facilities are all males, Finch noted. Once they gain weight, the large owls will be exercised in a 120-foot long flight pen.
In late-March or early April the surviving owls will be shipped to the Minnesota Raptor Center, Finch said. They will then receive further care with an intent to eventually return them to the wild, at a release point along the Canadian border. Hopefully the birds would then return to their normal Arctic homeland.
The dead Snowy Owls are not being thrown away. Owl, hawk and eagle carcasses are sent by Raptor Recovery Nebraska to SIA, Finch said.
The Comanche Nation Ethno-Ornithological Initiative (SIA) is a feather repository in Cyril Oklahoma. The tribal group distributes feathers for use in ceremonies and other authorized purposes. Unutilized bird material is then apparently buried in an ceremony respective of the bird.