John Haas Photo
Steve Davis of Eldred, known for his wildlife photography, kept a close watch on the snowy owl and wrapped it up in a towel after it got too close to Route 17B in Bethel earlier this month. A passing stranger took it to the Delaware Valley Raptor Center.
Story by Frank Rizzo
December 24, 2013 Numerous people around the Bethel area were thrilled to have witnessed a rare Snowy Owl this month.
However, the story had a sad ending when attempts to save the malnourished female creature, named “Joni” by the bird lovers, were to no avail.
“It was a particularly tough loss,” said Bill Streeter of the Delaware Valley Raptor Center in Milford, PA, who attempted to save the bird with colleague Jan Lucciola.
Both are federal and state licensed rehabilitators and Streeter said this was the first snowy owl the center has tried to save in 30 years (it has one who lives at the center, Oona, and is a special favorite, according to Streeter).
Streeter noted that snowies are closely related to the great horned owls and have similar biologies.
When Streeter and Lucciola received “Joni,” she weighed just 21⁄2 lbs. their normal weight is 5-6 lbs. The first 24 hours of rehab is spent administering fluids, otherwise the birds would be too weak and dehydrated to metabolize their food.
“My gut told me we had gotten her in time, and there was a glimmer of hope on day two, and we thought we had turned her around,” Streeter said.
However, the bird took a turn for the worse on day three and started refusing food always a bad sign and finally died on day four of treatment.
“I’ve been second guessing every step of the treatment,” Streeter confessed, adding that “it’s a tough one. You do this for 30 years and wonder why more rehabbers don’t burn out.”
Streeter said it’s unusual for these Arctic owls to fly this far south in search of food, and speculated that there was either an owl population boom or a precipitous decline in the lemmings and Arctic hares that constitutes their main food supply.
Streeter said this “irruption” or sudden influx is very rare and could be “a once in a lifetime event.”
The Cornell University Lab of Ornithology backs this up.
“We’re experiencing what could be the largest-ever influx of Arctic Snowy Owls into the Northeast and Great Lakes states,” said Cornell biologist Kevin McGowan in a recent release.
Harold and Lynn Russell spotted the owl on their farm on Route 17B and observed it for a few days. “The Snowy Owl was frequently seen being perched along the telephone or electric pole, trying to hunt mice, by the large round hay bales that were along Route 17B,” wrote Democrat Kenoza Lake correspondent Susan Brown Otto. “Harold told me that a bird group came and trapped the Snowy Owl and had taken it off in a box. A number of photographers with telescopic lenses had stopped to take photos of the owl.”
The bird lovers keeping watch on the owl included author/photographer John Haas of Wurtsboro (Bashakill Birder blog) and wildlife photographer Steve Davis of Eldred.
On December 4 Haas wrote: “This morning Steve Davis went to check on her around dawn. He found her sitting on the edge of the road. At first it seemed she was OK, but since cars were passing so close to her and she wasn’t moving he decided to approach her. She made a short wobbly hop, but could not fly. She settled back on the side of the road. Steve called me to let me know what was happening and we quickly decided she had to get off the side of the road. Steve approached her again and she didn’t move. He retrieved a towel from his truck and wrapped her in it. Two passersby stopped to offer help. One was Sullivan Audubon member Kathy Scullion. The gentleman who stopped works near the Delaware Raptor Center in Milford, PA. He knows the staff there and agreed to transport the bird there. I called the Raptor Center, alerting them to the bird being transported in for rehab.”
“This year’s Snowy Owl irruption is the largest we’ve seen in decades and this is an awesome opportunity for people to see these birds,” said Cornell biologist Kevin McGowan. “A really great way to find out where they are in your area is to check out the live maps at eBird, which tracks reports of the Snowy Owls at http://www.eBird.
“Snowy Owls are one of the most impressive animals on the planet. You don’t have to be a bird watcher to appreciate how cool they are!” McGowan added.
According to the website, they have been spotted as far south as Cape Hatteras, N.C.
Streeter wrote in an email quoted by Haas, “I’ve never seen a species of owl so curious, engaging and delightful to be around. Snowies are special."