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How Fares the Snowy Owl?

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Writing from the studio as I watch the snow sift down, lifting the big rig every few minutes or seconds to fire away at jays, robins, sparrows and towhees in the snow, I'm keenly aware of my self-assumed role, shrugged on once again, of Press Agent to  a Beloved Animal. I know everyone wants an update, and now! I've got some humans here, me being one of them, who need attention in that odd, limboey week between Christmas and New Year's Eve.  I'm stealing away to peck at my keyboard and catch you up on the West Virginia snowy owl.

When we last left the owl, he was being folded up for packing in a cardboard carton for the two-hour ride to Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia in Morgantown, WV. 

photo by Michael Schramm, USFWS

WV State Ornithologist Rich Bailey put away the pole net used to catch him.

He'd been weighed and examined and was rumbling around in his box while everyone got ready to go. I turned my attention to a far less fortunate snowy owl, who photographer and bird bander Joey Herron had picked up on the highway median near Morgantown.  We can assume he got hit crossing. Perhaps it was the owl he'd photographed in Morgantown in mid-November, that I'd thought might be the mall owl. 

Like ours, it was a hatch-year male--three or fewer bars on the underside of his tail. 

The lightly marked inner secondaries also say male. There are all these ways that birds indicate their age and sex, of which we are largely unaware. It's fun to be hip to the bird code.

Joey helped me find the owl's ear under incredibly thick Arctic insulation.  Asymmetrically placed ear openings help the birds triangulate what they're hearing and zero in on prey hidden under snow.

This owl was going to veterinarian Jesse Fallon of ACCA for necropsy. It was even more emaciated than the mall owl (1100 gm), weighing in at 1000 gm. A healthy male snowy owl starts at 1500 gm.

This--running afoul of the works of man, is the fate that befalls so many wandering snowy owls. And our mall owl's odd fate, with bad choices of hangouts, a car collision and the crowds that gave him no rest, is a representative mix of weird anthropogenic stuff that befalls and often kills naive tundra owls. Yet the incredible work of Project SNOWstorm, tracking snowy owls, has shown us that many of these birds who come south live to make it back to the Arctic and tell the tale to their babies the next summer, and summers and summers to come.  If you haven't seen their website, it's fantastic, and it's where much of what we know about snowy owls resides. There's been an explosion in our knowledge about these birds since Project SNOWstorm was launched in the winter of 2013-14. Like all wildlife rehabilitation and so much worthy research these days, Project SNOWstorm is funded by donation.

Here's the first report from ACCA , upon receiving the owl in the clinic the night of Dec. 21.

The snowy owl from Vienna is emaciated but stable tonight. He has a right shoulder injury (a minimally displaced coracoid fracture) that will require 4-6 weeks of healing. Also, the owl is anemic, has many external parasites, and a bacterial infection in his mouth. Our biggest concern at this point is his poor body condition. He's been treated and is resting comfortably tonight. Our veterinarian says his prognosis is fair.

Jesse takes blood for a full workup, Dec. 21. Photos by Katie Fallon

He is a very lousy owl. Who knew snowy owls had lice? I'm guessing this might be a species not often seen around here. 
While we're looking, get a load of the mustache around his nostrils, that serves to trap and warm air before he inhales.

One of the really cool things about feathers is that they are movable, retractable. There are tiny muscles at the base of each one that move it around. There is a bill under there! Look at how he pulls the mustache away from his bill when he's sorting through leaf litter, hoping he's caught a vole. That was the only time I saw his whole bill.

At the clinic, the owl got a number of small meals, so as not to overwhelm his digestive system. From the get-go, he was hungry, and has pounced on every rat and quail he's been offered. 

Dec. 22, the morning after admission. Right wing still held down and out. But  alert and hungry!

Katie Fallon's report from Dec. 22: Mr. S. Owl ate about 300 grams of food over the course of the day. He ate everything immediately! His meds are liquid, injected into the dead rodent, so he got them successfully too -- an antibiotic (enrofloxacin), prophylactic anti-fungal (turbinafine), and meloxicam for pain and inflammation.


Naturally, you want to avoid handling the bird as much as possible, to reduce stress. So once the blood was taken and bones were checked out, the owl will be left in peace, and the fact that it's taking its medications via its food means no injections, and minimal handling. The idea with a "minimally displaced coracoid fracture" is to let it heal by itself. And it will heal if the bird doesn't try to fly. So all the high perches were taken out of the owl's spacious cage, and all it has to do is eat, sleep, cast pellets and poop. 

Dec. 22, morning. Photo by Katie Fallon. Amazing how much better this bird looks with some food, hydration, and rest.

What Katie Fallon calls his "rat mustache." This photo from Dec. 24 shows him full of rat, and a bit bloody, too.

His pink mustache helps me remember that however appealing this owl may look, he's a predator. He's nobody's cuddly stuffed toy.  A friend wrote: 

"Some years back the vet I worked for treated a rescued snowy.  Healed and released, but with no gratitude for the humans. When I remembered this my boss said once he’d treated one which he thought ‘understood’ that he was helping and maybe appreciated it....  until it recovered enough to express its true feelings.  Fuzzy but not warm...  they are majestic. So glad this one is getting a second chance. And that humans – some misguided but all connecting – are able to learn as well as admire."

So we mustn't forget that the owl is only as tame as he is feeling "down." And the better he feels, the less docile and seemingly trusting he's inclined to be. 
I had a saw-whet owl in rehab once who looked like a teeny tiny surprised kitteh. And when I would open his cage to put a mouse in, he'd launch from his perch and stab. But he stabbed ME. Not the mouse. So fast with his needle-sharp feet. Nasty!

Katie didn't forget to send an update on Christmas Day, when the 1100 gm owl had arrived at 1450 gm!! That's 3.18 lb. Looks like he ought to weigh more than a small cat, doesn't he? But healthy male snowy owls start at 1500 gm. He's well on his way to bulking up, and that is a wonderful Christmas gift.

He feels so much better he's started hissing at Katie when she brings his medicated rodents.

Christmas Day. ACCA photo 

From Katie: I just fed your pal Mr. Hissy Pants his medicated mouse. After hissing at me, he realized a mouse had appeared in front of him. He pounced on it with his big floofy feet and swallowed it whole. Then he hissed at me some more.


 I am particularly encouraged to see that his right wing, while still out of place, is not drooping all the way to his perch any more. Dr. Fallon has decided not to wrap it, since X-rays revealed that the displacement of the broken coracoid is minimal, and not all birds take well to wraps. Wearing a wrap can worry a bird and put it off its balance--and its feed. 

The best thing that this owl can do is keep eating, keep gaining weight, and rest. He doesn't have to fly to get food now. He's a very lucky boy.

Down the hatch with a medicated rat. A  perfectly formed pellet to the right. I'm looking at those talons, oh my. This bird is a puncture machine, a lethal squeeze machine.

His wing carriage continues to improve.

 Dec. 29. He has just swallowed a 70-gm quail. Its feet are only just disappearing down his throat. Great news came back today, Dec. 31, that he has tested negative for exposure to anticoagulant rodenticides! Another bullet dodged by this lucky owl. He wasn't getting much to eat in the ditch behind the restaurants, and that might have been a good thing. From where I stood in the mall parking lot, I could see three rodent bait boxes behind three different restaurants, as well as the owl.

Keeping this bird, and the rotating cast of perhaps 300 avian patients admitted to ACCA yearly, in clean animal food (farm-raised frozen rats, mice and quail) is a costly proposition. Hoping you will remember the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, and Project SNOWstorm, in your charitable giving.

In my next post, I'm going to share some thoughts on what might have been going on in the mind of this owl when he was in extremis. I've been thinking a lot about that. Thanks for following his story, and stay tuned.  This update is your New Year's Eve present.  A million thanks to Katie Fallon for the great clinic photos. Let's all visualize a great flying future for this owl!

Happy New Year!! I hope you dance. 


Snowy Owl Vet Check

Tuesday, December 26, 2017


I can't describe how it felt to come trotting up to the scene of Vince holding the owl. I'd imagine that touching that owl was like being able to hold a mermaid. The mythical, made real.

As soon as Jesse was ready, though, the examination commenced, a Greek chorus of Vienna WV neighbors watching.

The owl's head swiveled smoothly as he glared at each intruder. 

Jesse, momentarily repositioning him. The head is a good place to hold on. You'll notice that neither Vince nor Jesse is wearing gloves. Gloves are a hindrance when you're examining a bird, and they are scarier for the patient than bare hands. With owls, if you keep control of the feet, you generally don't have to worry about being bitten. Owls' main weapons of resort are their feet. You absolutely do not want a snowy owl's foot to close around your tender hand.  

Underneath that miraculous snow-shedding hairy floof (talk about specialized feathers!) are 1 1/4" long slender ebony scimitars that would very cleanly perforate your hand, meet on the other side, and not let go until it thunders or the sun goes down. Excruciating, and damaging. Remember, this bird can kill an Arctic fox, a snow goose...

So you may be sure that Vince kept a very good hold on the snowy owl's legs while Jesse checked him out. Eyes were fine. You always want to check the eyes in a car-hit bird, because the huge eyes of an owl are very vulnerable to impact damage, as is the optic nerve. No problem with his eyes,  hooray!

I'm sure that it's their round heads, with large, forward facing eyes, that make humans connect so thoroughly with owls. Of all birds, owls have the most anthropomorphic appearance, and being humans, we connect best with beasts that remind us of ourselves. 

So it was with considerable bemusement that I skimmed through hundreds of excited comments wherever this owl's story appeared: Facebook pages, Instagram, and newspaper posts online. A great number of them noted that the owl appeared very calm, as if it knew it was in good hands at last. As if it knew it was being helped.

Well. Anything's possible. But just in case the owl was not a cuddly grateful knowing wise "little baby," but in fact a very pissed off Arctic apex predator with murderous intent, Jesse and Vince kept a firm hold on his legs.

Because there's a thing that happens with wild things that are badly hurt and compromised. They can sometimes act tame and seem calm. And it's not until they start feeling better--in fact, start feeling like themselves--that the wildness kicks back in. And we wildlife rehabilitators--real ones like Jesse and Katie Fallon, and pantomime ones like me--much prefer to see wild things feel and act like themselves, even if it's inconvenient or scary for us. One of my favorite big brown bats of all time earned her name--Drusilla-- by trying to chew through two layers of gloves every time I had to handle her. I didn't handle her much. But I laughed the whole time, maybe a bit nervously, as she did her damnedest to shred my gloves and get to my thumbs.

If you've never been on the receiving end of a big brown bat's determined bite, you would be very surprised at its crushing power. You might even be terrified, if you hadn't had your rabies inoculation and weren't wearing enough layers of gloves. I mean, this thing isn't much bigger than your average mouse, but it's got razor-sharp teeth, lots of 'em, and it uses them with intent.

I made some videos of the owl's intake exam I'd love to share now.

In this video, Jesse listens through his stethoscope for any crackling or hissing in the owl's internal air sacs, which might indicate they had been compromised by the collision.
Next, he opens the owl's mouth and finds two white plaques inside. As far as we know they are bacterial in origin, and not due to trichomoniasis, but he decided to make an antifungal drug part of the bird's regime just to make sure.

Palping the owl's breastbone, he finds no pectoral muscle surrounding and padding the bladelike keel--a very bad sign. This means that, in order to survive, the owl has absorbed its own muscle--the meaning of "emaciation." Given rest and food, that muscle can build back up, but without intervention, this bird would almost certainly have perished. At 1100 grams, he was down at least 400 grams from the minimum weight for a healthy male snowy owl. A 35% body weight loss is in the red zone.

Next, Jesse checks out the left wing, then the injured right wing. He finds instability in the right shoulder, and a possible coracoid break deep inside the breast of the owl. As I explained in an earlier series about an injured goldfinch, the coracoid is a strut of bone that supports the pectoral muscle, and allows the muscle to contract so the bird can make a downstroke. A coracoid break doesn't necessarily rob a bird of all flight, but it certainly makes flight painful and difficult. Neither of those things contributes to an owl's ability to make a living in the wild.  The way the owl's right wing hung straight down his entire last morning in the wild, it was obvious to us all that he wouldn't be viable for much longer.


Next, Jesse examines the owl's legs. Remember that this bird has been hit--hard--by a car. Or rather, the owl hit the car, launching himself off a low wall by the Burger King and colliding with an oncoming vehicle's right front bumper. So chances are there is bruising in his legs as well. Jesse checks the feet, looking for lesions on the toes and especially the soles. When a bird is in as bad shape as this owl is, things like bumblefoot, a bacterial infection that almost always kills the bird, can easily take hold. Bumblefoot enters through lesions on the soles of the feet. So far, so good.


Before boxing the bird up for the ride to his clinic in Morgantown, WV, Jesse and Vince give the owl an injection of electrolytes and fluids. Rehydrating the bird is almost as important as feeding it. The fluids go in subcutaneously and are absorbed. It's a challenge finding the owl's skin, so thick is its downy insulation. This bird was suffering from many things, but not from being cold.

Field intake exam finished, a relieved but concerned Dr. Fallon gives a little spiel, then boxes the owl up for transport to Morgantown, about two hours north. State Ornithologist Rich Bailey and trapper Vince Slabe help. We are all so grateful to them for making the capture possible. 


This photo by Joey Herron is kind of meta...that's me on the left with the green iPhone, making the video above...ooh. 

The owl submitted to its exam with grace, only occasionally creaking and chittering. It's nice, in these videos, to hear the voice of a snowy owl, even one under duress. I had dreamt of touching him should he finally be captured, but that didn't seem proper. We were all in awe of his beauty and dignity, leaving the touching to the people who did it with knowledge and purpose. 

It was an amazing, splendid, magnificent day, this Winter Solstice 2017, the day a bunch of concerned people came together to take a suffering snowy owl out of a terrible situation and give him a second chance at flying and living in the wild again. 

I came home, thoroughly exhausted, but in a very, very good way. The first ornament Phoebe hung on our Christmas tree, which had gone lit but undecorated thanks to my preoccupation with our Arctic visitor...

was a snowy owl. 

Eat, sleep, rest, and don't try to fly, sweet owl. And maybe, if the stars align, you'll fly yourself back to the Arctic Circle come spring.

I get updates several times a day from Katie Fallon at the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, and I'm excited to share them in my next post. So far, it's all good news. This boy wants to live!! 

The owl's intake photo. There might have to be cuteness limits installed here. Because this photo's pushing it. I think Katie's in love. Not so sure about the owl. :D

If you'd like to contribute to their rehabilitation of the owl, please donate here. 

GOT EEEM!!! Trapping a Snowy Owl

Sunday, December 24, 2017

The night before the trapping attempt, I laid out two amulets. One was my snowy owl, the other my Eskimo face. Both are soapstone, one of my favorite substances. I believe both to be powerful. Both were gifts.  I'm not sure about the owl pendant's provenance,  as I think it was purchased in an Iowa antique shop, but the face was carved by an Inuit woman in 1976, somewhere along Hudson Bay, way up there. They seemed most appropriate choices to lend their magic to the success of this hunt.

I've always worn them when I needed strength, like when I'd be giving an important talk in an intimidating setting; attending a home birth once; venturing into New York City. The Eskimo pendant's leather thong broke when I was very young and running across a street in New York, and her chin got chipped, and that, as well as a lot of other things about that place, told me I really had better get back to the country. I look at that chip and think about that moment every time I put the amulet on. I feel thankful that I live in a place where animals and birds are my closest neighbors.

Waiting for action. Photo by Michael Schramm, USFWS
With many other involved parties, including area birders who'd watched over the bird for the past week;  Michael Schramm from the Ohio River Islands NWR; State Ornithologist Rich Bailey;  Joey Herron, bird bander and photographer; Jesse and Vince from ACCA in Morgantown; and local law enforcement officials, Phoebe, Liam and I sat for several hours in the parking lot at Faith Baptist Church on 10th St. in Vienna, WV, waiting for the snowy owl to leave its post and go for the bait. That's Shila there in the pink hat! and Rebecca Young of USFWS's Ohio River Islands NWR just to her right.  We've got a battery of scopes, cameras and optics at the ready. It would be a 6 1/2 hour wait. The owl would fly when it was good and ready.

Our view from the church parking lot. Vince Slabe waits in the shadows to the left of the pole  (the second one back) where the snowy owl sits. And sits. 

 On the Winter Solstice day that we gathered in Vienna, WV, to trap the snowy owl, I believe both of my soapstone amulets were both working overtime, as that owl finally launched himself off the telephone pole and flapped down, headed for the trap. Of course the amulets may have had nothing to do with our luck. It was all up to the owl, and he took his own sweet time deciding he'd answer the call. But believing in them is part of their power. 

2:07:37 pm. He flies toward the bait.

From across Pond Run, I saw Jesse, the avian veterinarian, start running toward the trap site. It's 2:08:02 pm.

Then Jesse stopped dead.  It's 2:08:10. I couldn't see what was going on, but I stopped, too, and waited.  The last thing I wanted to do was to rush in and spoil things! What I didn't know was that the owl was on the ground at the bait, and Vince was struggling with the cannon net.

When Jesse started running again, I did, too, splashing through the creek, cradling my big lens in the crook of my arm. 

I found out later that when the owl took the bait, and Vince triggered the explosives, nothing happened.

He had prepared the net carefully. It had fired perfectly at least a hundred times before. But not this time. 

Vince, packing the net for its next firing. Which didn't happen. Photo by Michael Schramm, USFWS
 So Jesse grabbed a pole net from his car and snuck up behind him and dropped it over the owl, just like Elmer Fudd used to do to Daffy Duck.  Only a lot more smoothly and successfully. Bird bander and ace photographer Joey Herron caught and kindly loaned the moment that the owl's fortunes changed for the better.  
photo by Joey Herron
photo by Joey Herron

The net that finally caught him. It occurred to me, looking at it, that we might have been able to use that net on the owl over at the mall, when it was so debilitated that people were walking right up to it and trying to pet it. But that may be 20-20 hindsight. I'm glad Vince trapped the bird the old-fashioned way, asking it to come be trapped with food.  

photo by Michael Schramm, USFWS
The back of Jesse and Katie Fallon's car. In it you can see the cannon net, the black bow (clamshell) net and the (still perfectly fine) bright-eyed black gerbil who served as bait for the venture.

The next thing I knew,  at 2:10:28, Vince had that beautiful white owl in his arms, and Rich Bailey and Joey Herron were there smiling broadly. Jesse was back at his car, going through his medical supplies, getting ready to assess and rehydrate the bird.

I was so glad I had my telephoto lens, so I could close in on Vince, and capture the moment in his life that he first held a snowy owl in his arms. I don't know if he was trembling, but I could hardly hold the camera still.

The tenderness and concern on his face and in his hands moved me deeply. He has lifted it and felt how little it weighs. He knows this owl is in deep trouble. I know before anyone says anything what they have found, just from the look on Vince's face. 

And sure enough, when Jesse and Vince weigh the owl, it comes in at 1100 gm--400 short of the 1500 gm minimum for a healthy male snowy owl. He's lost 35% of his body weight. Did the emaciation occur over the two weeks since he was hit by the car, or was he already thin when he arrived in West Virginia? It doesn't really matter. All that matters now is saving his life.

And here I must stop, for goodness knows I have other presents to wrap! This story is my gift to you. In my next post, I'll have videos of the owl's first veterinary assessment, and news of how it fares in the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia's clinic in Morgantown, WV.  Hint: He's a real fresser!

If you'd like to send them a little Christmas love, hit this link. 

Thank you VERY much for following this story and helping ACCA care for this beautiful northern visitor.

To Save a Snowy Owl

Friday, December 22, 2017


I knew that going to see the snowy owl at Grand Central Mall in Vienna, WV, just across the river from us, would change things. When I see wildlife in peril, I have to stop to help. Back in the mid-1980's, I remember walking Long Beach in Stratford, Connecticut, when I was working as a field biologist for The Nature Conservancy's Connecticut Chapter. I came up to a large colony of least terns and piping plovers which were trying to incubate their eggs and raise chicks on the open sand. People were walking through the colony, spreading beach towels over nests, letting their dogs run, and even driving through the colony, crushing nests as they went. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, and I couldn't stand the fact that nobody seemed to notice or care.  How asleep could they be?? Didn't they hear the birds shrieking at them, see them diving overhead? Wasn't there some responsibility on the part of the state Department of Environmental Protection to make sure these threatened birds were safe? All evidence indicated there was not. Somebody had to do something! Now!  On that day, I started planning how to protect the colonies statewide with signs and string fencing and patrols.  The Least Tern/Piping Plover Recovery Project was born, in the hot flame of an idealistic young heart. For the next three tern/plover nesting seasons, starting in late March and ending in late August, I covered 80 miles of coastline in my little Dodge Colt, hitting each colony as many times weekly as humanly possible,  designed and made my own signs, did my own fundraising, with TNC channeling the money ($1200 each season, on which I lived and bought materials) and three years later had enlisted 30 volunteers to help me. And by then I was burned to a crisp, skeletal, almost, with a bum hip from lugging stacks of wooden signposts in loose sand. 

No longer burned crispy and hardly skeletal, I still have that hot flame, that need to intervene.  And I knew that once I connected emotionally with the snowy owl, it would be game over.  It showed up at Grand Central Mall on Dec. 14. Bill Thompson III (Editor/Co-Publisher of Bird Watcher's Digest) had seen it on Dec. 17 and told me I should really go take a look at it, because it was so unnaturally tame and it was attracting a lot of attention. But I didn't go to see it right away.  I didn't want to see it. Or that. Any of it. Malls at Christmastime are like a vat of boiling oil I avoid falling into. I could only imagine a snowy owl in the middle of all that. The thought almost turned my stomach. Bill told me on the morning of Dec. 18 that he had called the local television station, WTAP Parkersburg, and offered himself (and me, if I chose) to talk on camera about this rare Arctic visitor to the local mall. Well then. Head out of sand, flushed out of cover. Off I go. 

I gathered my optics and camera and went to join Bill, a smattering of friends, and the crowd that had gathered in the Panera and Ruby Tuesday's parking lots.  I talked on camera about why the owl was hanging out in this humble ditch that ran between the mall and the strip of restaurants. (Short answer: Restaurant Rats).  I stayed there for 5 1/2 hours, taking in the scene, photographing the owl and the people enthralled by it. By evening, I'd seen more than enough. It was clear to me that the owl was weak, badly injured, and in considerable pain.  I didn't yet know what had happened to it; that it had been actually been hit by a car Dec. 6 at this Burger King four miles away, but I knew it was something bad; its right wing was at about half capacity. 

A couple of days after I posted about the fact that the owl was injured, a gentleman approached my friend Michael Schramm from USFWS while he was monitoring the mall crowds and confessed that the owl had flown off a low wall at Burger King near the Emerson Ave/I-77 interchange and slammed into his right front bumper. He thought he'd killed it at first. And his bumper still bears the evidence. It hurts just to look at this photo.
Somehow, the owl made it to the mall four miles distant. It disappeared Dec. 6 and showed up in the ditch behind Panera Dec. 14.

Photo by Tammy Anderson, thank you!!
While most in the crowds seemed to get that it needed space to live and hunt,  a small percentage didn't.  And they were crowding it and pushing it into reluctant flight, again and again.  My friends, led by birder Jon Benedetti, Rebecca Young of USFWS, and animal rescue softie/brave soul Ryan Bates, took it upon themselves to show up each day, to try to police the crowds and keep them a decent distance away from the owl. I got up at 6 on the morning of Dec. 19, sat down, uploaded and edited my photos, and wrote the post. I didn't leave my desk until 4 pm. I wanted to say in the post all the things I couldn't say on TV. 

I offer this link to Megan Vanselow's excellent video on WTAP's site. In it you will see the owl flying weakly, flopping onto the ground in pursuit of a mouse or vole it did not catch, and an epic Zick mic drop at the end. It's the lower (older) of the two videos that appear on the right side of the page. Watching it will give you a good feeling for the setting, and the owl's behavior.

Meanwhile, Bill had also contacted writer/naturalist Katie Fallon of the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia, a wildlife rehab clinic located in Morgantown, WV. Would she and her avian veterinarian husband Jesse Fallon be interested in helping this injured owl? Katie leapt at the chance, and shared my blogpost on her Facebook page. West Virginia's State Ornithologist, Rich Bailey, commented on Katie's post that he was conferring with his colleagues at WVDNR about what to do. Katie and Jesse at ACCA were standing ready to provide medical assistance. They enlisted their friend, Vince Slabe, raptor biologist and PhD candidate at WVU, to help capture the bird. It was all moving at lightning speed. I felt like the church mouse who'd climbed up and managed to ring the bell, and it was clanging hard and fast. But really, the ringing was from all of us pulling together, galvanized into action by this wholly unacceptable fate for a threatened and beautiful bird. 

Meanwhile, people were opining freely, as they will on social media. If the owl was hurt, why didn't somebody do something? Didn't anyone care? Call the state! Call a wildlife sanctuary! Go get it! As if there were an official West Virginia state wildlife ambulance that would skid to a halt, lights flashing, to take care of the problem. Far from it--ANY wildlife rehabilitation that goes on in West Virginia, Ohio, or in any state is ALL privately funded, through donations. These organizations, some of which handle hundreds to thousands of creatures each year, operate on a shoestring, through the kindness of strangers. Little did the people squawking about it know that we were all working as hard and as fast as we could behind the scenes to coordinate; to get the necessary Federal and state permission to capture and take the bird into the care of a West Virginia wildlife rehab organization. (Though most of my contacts are in Ohio, you can't take WV wildlife across state lines). We had to gather the right people together to pull this off. To schedule a time for capturing the bird when everyone could be there. These things must be done delicately...

To try to allay some of the chatter, without tipping our hand, I commented, 

It's all been figured out and many good and capable people care and are involved. With a rare Federally protected bird, there are proper legal channels and hoops to jump through by which to get help to it. This can't be done overnight. Nor does one simply call a wildlife sanctuary or walk up to a formidable predator that can kill geese and foxes and throw a blanket over it. Hang in there! If you have not read my blogpost, referenced in the original post, please do. It will answer many questions. Updates will follow. Thank you.

It was important not to state the plan, because whatever we did, we'd probably have a crowd of maybe 30-100 people watching, and far, far more if word got out. And a crowd would only complicate things. Crowds are good for that.

On Dec. 21, the scheduled morning for the first trapping attempt, we all woke up early. Vince and Jesse would have a two hour drive from Morgantown; mine was only 45 minutes. Jon Benedetti hurried to the mall, only to find no owl! What?! The owl had been there without fail since Dec. 14, and now he'd quit the place?  How could this be? HOW. And then I got a text from Katie Fallon, all the way from Morgantown, saying she'd gotten a text from Mollee Brown that she and Kyle Carlsen had found the bird on a telephone pole next to Faith Baptist Church on 10th St. in Vienna, about 3/4 mile from the mall. I emailed Jon, who'd already checked in saying the owl was AWOL; texted Jesse and Vince, and arranged to meet them on 10th Street. 

There was a pretty good group there, comprised of local birders who'd been guarding the owl; USFWS employes from the Ohio River Islands NWR; and local law enforcement who'd thought they'd be doing crowd control at the mall. Everyone agreed that meeting in a tucked-away church parking lot was vastly preferable to dealing with all that. Wise owl!

The bird had flown aways off since Mollee and Kyle found it, but the group soon spotted it a few blocks away. In the bright morning sun it looked like a big light fixture.

I look at this photo, all clobbered up with powerlines and transformers and poles, and think, "What on God's green earth is a snowy owl, denizen of the tundra, doing on 10th St. in Vienna, WV?" 

The crows were demanding to know the same thing. Even from this distance you can see the owl's hurt right wing, sticking out front and back like a banner.

The crows dove on it for a few seconds, then lost interest, thank goodness. 

As for marching right up and catching the owl, there's a right way to capture a large, powerful raptor that can fly, and it isn't throwing a blanket or a box over top of it. You're only going to traumatize it, and you're certainly not going to catch it that way.  Owls have wings and they tend to use them. To catch a raptor, you have to lure it into a trap, using live bait with special nets (bow, cannon, or, as a last resort, pole) or a noose carpet (not an option for someone with huge floofy feet). 

A noose carpet is a tethered pad covered with little monofilament loops that tighten when pulled on. You put live prey in the middle, the raptor lands and nooses tighten around its toes. They work well for raptors with scaly feet. Floofy superinsulated furry feet, nope. This is my highly scientific guess as to why Vince didn't try using a noose carpet on the owl.

Vince carries his bow net to the trap site.

A bow net is like a two-parted clamshell, that closes over the bird. It would take a very large bow net to capture a snowy owl. That's OK. Vince has lots of experience trapping golden eagles in the West, so he had the right bow net.

He tethered a gerbil in the bow net and set it where the owl could see it, but away from the sidewalk where people might mess with it.

Several hours went by.  The owl sat on the telephone pole, its injured right wing hanging all the way down along the pole. 

Phoebe and Liam and I sat and watched and waited. Finally, at 1:29, the kids had to leave; Phoebe had an appointment that couldn't be missed. As they left, they touched their hearts and gave the owl, sitting on its pole several hundred yards away, a sign to live long and prosper.  My heart swelled. I wished so hard they could have stayed with me at the stakeout. They were into it, would have been good for it, too.

At 2:01 pm, I took a photo of a man walking under the telephone pole, completely unaware of the giant Arctic owl sitting over his head. I call it, "Man Unaware of Giant Arctic Owl."

I sat in my car, parked well back from the pole, and watched. I never took my eyes off that owl, all day long. Once the kids left, I resisted the urge to chat with anyone; I wasn't interested in chatting. I was interested in 
the owl.

I knew as long as that injured wing was hanging down, the bird wasn't going anywhere. Frankly, I was glad to see it rest, glad to see it high up above and away from the madding crowd. Every once in awhile the wing would twitch as the owl seemed to try to bring it up into a more normal resting position, but it never did tuck the wing up. The sun was warm; I had to believe it felt good on the sore places.

I knew that as long as I could see the wing hanging, nothing was going to happen.

Vince decided to change from a bow net to a cannon net. He tethered live bait in the little field, a surprising distance from the owl, and armed the cannon net.  He knew the owl could see the bait moving around, and it didn't have to be right under the telephone pole for the owl to come after it.

Cannon net: With a bang, an explosive charge sends three padded missiles shooting out on a low arc, dragging and spreading that folded up, lightweight netting (the black wad in the box) behind them. Ideally, the raptor, which has landed on live bait on the ground in front of the device, is covered in netting before it has a chance to fly up and away. 

Suddenly, at 2:07 pm

 the owl's head came forward, it crouched, lifted that injured wing, and without further ado took off from the telephone pole, headed for the cannon net in the open area.  My camera was up and my eye was on the viewfinder and after six hours of solid waiting, I was ready to get the shots.

Why the owl had perched, sunning and sleeping, for six hours while ignoring the bait, then decided to launch after it, only the bird knows. 

I hate to leave you with a cliffhanger, but what you've just digested is 9 hours worth of photo editing and writing. I'm beat! and I need to start dinner cooking and take a hike before it gets dark on the shortest day of the year. Stick with me and I'll be back with more on Sunday!

Though I'll tell you more about the Avian Conservation Center of Appalachia in subsequent posts, if you're moved to help now, even before you hear how wonderful they are, their website is here.

Next: GOT EEEM!!!

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