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WSU giving attention, care to snowy owl with broken wing

High reproduction season may explain increased bird sightings

Washington Fish and Wildlife Officer Curt Wood holds Tundra, a snowy owl recovered after it was injured in a collision with a vehicle near Davenport, Wash.
Washington Fish and Wildlife Officer Curt Wood holds Tundra, a snowy owl recovered after it was injured in a collision with a vehicle near Davenport, Wash.

A snowy owl that recently escaped death is making himself at home at Washington State University.

The owl, Tundra, had migrated thousands of miles from the Arctic to the Inland Northwest when he smashed into a car near Davenport, Wash.

The incident left him with a broken wing and dislocated elbow, meaning he’ll never be able to fly again. But he is settling in at the WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital, where he is being treated for his injuries.

“Tundra is special,” said Nickol Finch, who oversees WSU’s Raptor Rehabilitation Center. “Our Raptor Club students love taking care of him.”

Experts say Tundra is one of an unprecedented number of snowy owls making their way south this year.

It’s not unusual for the birds to fly south, but they usually don’t do so in such large numbers to such a variety of places, said wildlife biologist Denver Holt, who runs the Owl Research Institute in Charlo, Mont. The last time there was a similar sudden and significant increase in snowy owls in the region was 2005-‘06.

“We know the owls had a very high reproduction season,” Holt said in a news release. “My guess is that there are now so many of them that the juveniles are getting pushed south. Before long, they find themselves in Washington, Nebraska and elsewhere.”

At WSU, Tundra is doted on by a flock of caregivers and hand fed.

His neighbors include a giant bearded dragon lizard and a lime green Amazon parrot. Because they prefer a warm climate and Tundra a cold one, he spends his days in front of a fan and a large bowl stocked with ice.

“He’s always standing in it, with his feathers ruffling in the breeze from the fan,” Finch said in a news release.

The day after Thanksgiving, Washington Fish and Wildlife Officer Curt Wood responded to reports of an owl hopping on the ground and found Tundra struggling to fly.

Armed with heavy-duty gloves, he picked it up and saw its wing was broken. Knowing it would die in the wild, he considered killing it.

But then, Wood said, “It seemed to be totally at ease with me, as if it knew that I was going to save it, so I didn’t have the heart to put it down.”

Another snowy owl wasn’t so lucky.

That owl, which began attracting attention as it wintered south of Colville in recent weeks, was found dead last Wednesday.

“It was recovered at the base of a power pole, and feather damage indicates electrocution,” said Pat Mike Munts, wildlife biologist at the Little Pend Oreille National Wildlife Refuge.

As for Tundra, it’s unknown how long he’ll be staying at WSU, but for now, he’s a welcome addition to the Palouse.

“He’s got those big yellow eyes and is gentle, as far as raptors go,” Finch said. “People find him captivating.”

Visit our Outdoors Blog for a video of the snowy owl being treated at Washington State University’s Veterinary School.
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