By Margo Hearne-This is a lean time of year when even hardy crows suffer and eagles begin to lose hope. It has ever been thus – the months of February and March are the struggling time – at this latitude across the globe all our ancestors checked their larders and wondered if they had enough to last until spring.
So last week when we got a voice mail from Mara Bell saying “there’s an immature snowy owl with at least a broken wing just sitting in the middle of the road across the sanctuary, it’s quite tame and quite badly hurt,” a concerted effort was made to pick it up before it died of starvation. A snowy owl in rainy country in February is an owl in trouble.
By the time the rescuers got to the bird it had moved into an alder patch and while Harvey Thommasen distracted the bird, Martin Williams gently dropped a landing net over it and picked it up.
“It was very weak and hardly weighed anything,” said Mr. Williams, a Haida carver. “I don’t think it had eaten for ages. Then I was really shocked when I saw its eye; it looked like it had gone completely and I didn’t really know how come it was still alive. We put it in the box Peter Hamel had brought and took it to his place and put it by the woodstove to warm up. Harvey went home and thawed out some deer tenderloin and brought it over. We cut it up into small pieces and I tried feeding the bird. It wouldn’t eat until I put it right against its bill, then it got the taste and began to eat. It just ate and ate, then stopped. It was full!”
“We learned that snowy owls will eat several small mammals whole all at once,” Mr. Williams continued. “It’s feast or famine in the arctic where they come from and they’ve evolved a method of not starving to death when the food source gets low. This little bird was starving.”
“Once the Snowy Owl got food it began to perk up very quickly,” Mr. Hamel said. “It loved the warmth of the woodstove. We wanted to get it to the Prince Rupert Wildlife Rehab Centre at the earliest – if anyone can help wild birds survive, they can. Lots of people had heard of the rescue and they all wanted to see how the bird was doing; as we had missed the afternoon flight to Prince Rupert and to wait until next afternoon it gave people a chance to see it. Martin came and fed it in the evening and again next morning and it continued to eat well.”
The next day the good news about ‘our’ bird arrived from Nancy and GÃ¼nter at the wildlife rehab shelter: “Owl and medication arrived fine. You made a really comfortable travelling container. Cardboard boxes are much better than travelling cages for birds. I’ve been treating with the drops you sent four times a day, and as well I’ve used a round of antibiotics. But in case I’ve missed anything, GÃ¼nter took the bird over to Dr. Kennedy (veterinarian) about half an hour ago. The eye isn’t as painful today, but it has a long way to go.”
“That’s good news given its condition, ” said Mr. Hamel. “We are ‘on call’ for all sorts of birds, and often the news isn’t good. But with everyone’s help, including North Pacific Seaplanes, we really have a great team in place that is willing to go to great lengths to help out when the need arises – we just hope the snowy owl continues to get healthier and will eventually make its own way back to its home in the Arctic.”
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