09 February 2012

Snowy Owls Going to Feather Repository

Some of the Snowy Owls which have died during this winter's irruption from the Arctic, will soon provide culturally significant feathers for use by members of many Native American tribes. [Feathers of a road-kill Great Horned Owl]

Sia, or the Comanche Nation Ethno-Ornithological Initiative, has so far received only one owl carcass from a South Dakota refuge, according to William Voelker, executive director and co-founder.

Several will be sent from Raptor Recovery Nebraska, according to Betsy Finch, director.

Sia is the only tribal effort that can store feathers for distribution to members of federally recognized tribes throughout the United States.

"The feathers are used for cultural, ceremonial or spiritual needs or purposes," Voelker said. "The snowy owl is a sacred and holy bird to some tribes of the northern Plains" such as the Siouxian, Blackfeet and Crow.

"Wing and tail feathers in the form of a fan are used for doctoring in specific healing ceremonies," Voelker said.

"For many tribes, it is important to be able to use a feather and call on the energy of the bird to connect to the power of a higher energy," Voelker said.

Once the usable feathers are removed, a special ceremony then occurs where the remains are painted with ochre, and bundled for a scaffold or rock-pile disposal, Voelker said. "No bird is ever burned or buried, as this would be an affront to Native American culture."

This method allows the bird's spirit and energy to return to their sky domain.

Few Snowy Owl feathers have previously been available, and those that become available now will allow the initiative to establish a stockpile to fulfill future requests. [Feathers of a Sedge Wren]

Though the group has a special focus on raptors, feathers from most native birds are of interest, as different tribes recognize the unique significance of different species.

Feathers of birds not classified under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act are also distributed by the repository to people who are not members of a federally recognized tribe.

"Our repository has feathers of birds from five continents," Voelker said.

Sia — a Comanche word for feather — was established 36 years ago and is an official program of the Comanche Nation.

Other efforts of the initiative include care and breeding of the Bald Eagle and Golden Eagle, scientific research on the use of plumage by tribal nations, and breeding the Spanish Imperial Eagle in partnership with the Spanish government.

The Initiative operates under authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has issued a permit that allows the possession of items from birds designated by the MBTA.

A two-year evaluation period for the repository is currently underway, which started in June 2010.