25 November 2012

Saga of Errant Arctic Owls in Nebraska

A young owl only months old arrived at the Omaha riverfront and set off a
distinctive response of attention and care.

Snowy Owl at the CenturyLink Center Omaha, November 16th. Picture courtesy of Al Reyer.

The sojourn of this bird — born and raised in the northern wilds — brought it southward to along the Missouri River where it was observed by a someone interested in birds who was participating in a dog show.

A note was quickly posted online, with an immediate response on Friday, November 16th. Other birders soon arrived at the scene, with federal government employees appreciating their closer look through a birder's spotting scope at the obvious owl perched indifferently on the east side of the CenturyLink Center Omaha.

It was said to be a first-year female, according to birder's comments. Details were particular to the extent that the owl was seen regurgitating a pellet. This was interpreted as an indication it was doing okay, since it had been finding suitable prey.

The haps and mishaps of this bird were enough to provide details sufficient for local media to report, as personally indicated Saturday evening.

There were no other observations during the weekend, though the white owl was obviously still present on the north side of downtown.

Media reports started with the a.m. Monday newspaper, which gave the requisite details of the Friday occurrence, with a courtesy photograph.

Reporting continued, especially once this owl was put under a box in the parking lot at the hotel across the street to the west of the building where it was first sighted. This happened Monday, after the owl had been seen trying to traverse the perils of downtown — including urban streets and hurried traffic — within the downtown of the city.

What followed was a unique mix of events that caught the attention of many Omaha residents, through local media. Print articles appeared again, both on Tuesday and Wednesday. Two television stations provided reportage.

By midweek, the occurrence of this owl, and another which was injured elsewhere in Nebraska after being hit by a garbage truck, were also reported by a Lincoln newspaper.

The east Omaha owl was especially renowned, because of being seen in a populated urban setting, and then going through a quick transition from a wild existence to receiving interior care associated with efforts to ensure its survival. The bird had a weight of less than two pounds — compared to a 4-5 pound norm — when taken into intensive care, said Denise Lewis of the Omaha urban area, the education coordinator for Raptor Recovery Nebraska. She suitably took responsibility for the errant owl, providing essential liquid nutrients and a safe shelter to bring it back from the brink.

It was certainly a preferable alternative. Rather than having died at some unknown outdoor place, it had a hope for survival since it arrived because of its own unknown inclinations, where many things happened that were so beneficial for this particular Snowy Owl.

Media attention moderated with the arrival of the Thanksgiving holiday, and a greater focus on shopping.

The Omaha owl enjoyed on Thursday, its own unique meal. It was given bite-sized bits of rabbit leg. The meat — carefully cut into pieces of suitable size by care-giver Lewis — was provided during mid-afternoon. My personal effort of feeding with tweezers, was a vastly preferable alternative to watching something like football on television. The special owl sat placidly, and though squinty-eyed, did not hesitate in gulping down each morsel as presented one at a time. Its previous whole food had been pinky mice, and then others of the same sort, though larger.

Snowy Owl at facilities of Raptor Recovery Nebraska.

With a unique expression and presence, this owl of the Arctic wilds has taken on a special cognition. From a personal perspective, this owl is known by the name of Oma, though other moniker's bantered about included QT and Snowball.

Later on the so-called holiday, this feathered wonder was taken southward, to get additional care at the raptor-care headquarters, further south in Nebraska.
On the 24th, both snowy owl patients were doing better, said Betsy Finch, director of the raptor recovery group. "They are eating well, which is a good sign.

"I am cautiously optimistic for both owls," Finch said. Each has been assigned a number, since rehabilitation birds are not named.

With both snowy owls present, Finch said they are males, based upon a side-by-side comparison, and their notably smaller size.

"We are committed to give both owls the best care so they can be returned to the wild," Finch said.

As their condition would improve, they would be placed into a flight cage so as to regain the strength necessary for normal flight. There would then be an eventual release back into the wild, which would probably occur hundreds of miles northward.

"We appreciate people's concern" for raptors needing assistance, Finch said. "Don't assume it looks just fine, but call an expert" if there is some uncertainty.

"Everyone did the right thing," with these owls, she added.

The saga for these mysterious owls — especially the one associated with Omaha — is worthy of a book: Arctic owl flees northerly conditions to end up within a city-scape where a bird enthusiast reports its presence for many others to enjoy, and then due to its weak condition gets rescued — with the situation broadly reported — and then receives special care to help it survive so it may return to its native land in the great north tundra.