Owls: A Current Saga
by Bob Kendall
fall we have had a good news/bad news story of Snowy Owls.
Good news, these magnificent birds have afforded many people
a chance to add to their life lists; bad news, the owls have
been driven south by starvation. In their journey they not
only lived on their own fat, they consumed their muscle as
well. Beneath all that extraordinary plumage is a body desperate
They arrive here, beautiful but stressed beyond belief. Most
of those we see take up in shopping centers to feed on the
pigeons, gulls, and rodents there. We can speculate that they
are attracted to the lighting which provides them with a little
midnight sun - just like the world should be.
However, the human-free hours which are best for hunting are
short and their need for food is critical. This year, three
were brought to the Hudson Valley Raptor Center in dire straits.
The first came from Westchester and journeyed to us via a veterinarian
who does so much for the center. The bird was on intravenous
feeding when we got him, but it was too late, far too late.
He was almost literally as thin as a rail and endured for only
two more days.
The second was from the mall in Kingston and it arrived in
only slightly better shape. I did not realize that people had
been seeing two Snowies, but the person that captured him and
brought him to us was criticized for taking it from its mate.
However he was easy to catch and that is never a good sign.
Moreover, the winter visitors are almost exclusively immature
males; they lack a territory in the tundra and their hunting
skills are untested. In bad lemming/vole years they are forced
to range far from their original nest sites. The young lady
Snowies seem to find a sugar daddy to care for them. This one
may have been taken from his brother but he was not taken from
a mate. Alas, it was too late for him also. Our record of saving
Snowies was depressing.
Still one Snowy remained at Kingston, but when he, too, showed
signs of weakness people acted more quickly and he was brought
in. He was so desperately hungry that he would eat immediately,
showing no caution, and taking no time out for fear. He quickly
took to live food.
Now, after nearly three weeks at the HVRC he is apparently
back to health. He is quite active and vigorous. Now he can
afford to show his fear of people and he can wait for them
to leave before he feeds. He is, in short, off our endangered
Snowy list and awaits release. In the meantime he has reminded
all of us just what the Raptor Center is for.
Over Dutchess, January 2002