Last Tuesday a Hawley resident took part in a rescue of a snowy owl that was too weak to fly.
The bird, rarely seen in this area, was found in Sullivan County, NY and taken to the Delaware Valley Raptor Center near Milford. Although the owl was undergoing treatment at the not-for-profit center, the bird did not survive.
••• Went to take pictures
Jeff Sidle, who has a passion for nature photography, heard that the native arctic owl had been observed and drove over early Tuesday morning, December 3rd. He left Hawley at about 5:15 a.m. in dense fog. Sidle reached the area on Route 17B near Bethel where others had seen the owl perched on the ground.
He caught sight of what he thought may have been the owl, and pulled over. With binoculars he confirmed his sighting, a few yards off the highway.
Sidle said he had learned about sightings of this particular bird on Facebook, posted by another nature photographer that he knows.
"I googled the farm and found the location. At that point I decided that I would take a ride as it was within pne hour travel of Hawley," Sidle said. "You can imagine my surprise to drive exactly to the owl and see it in the pre-dawn darkness!"
"Around 8 a.m. a photographer and bird enthusiast pulled in by my truck. He expressed his concern that the owl was too close to the road. I concurred and we had a plan that he would shoo the owl into an adjacent field away from traffic and I would try to get some in-flight owl photos. It was a good plan; however, the owl could not fly," Sidle said.
The other photographer was given a towel by a passer-by, and Sidle went to a nearby farmhouse and asked for a cardboard box to transport the owl to get help.
A box was obtained, and Sidle drove it to Milford Animal Hospital where the rehabilitator works. "Her initial evaluation was that the bird was emaciated and most likely dehydrated." Sidle reported. "There didn't appear to be any apparent injuries. She weighed it at 2 pounds, with normal being 3.5-4.375. It was all skin and bones."
The rehabilitator, Bill Streeter, intubated it and forced some fluid into its stomach and put it into a sturdier box to await transport to the Delaware Valley Raptor Center where the hope was to be able to coax it back to health.
The female owl died Saturday morning, Dec. 8 while still undergoing treatment. Streeter related that there had been encouraging signs that the bird was going to make it, but as of Friday afternoon, she was showing less interest in eating.
••• Unusual migration
Page 2 of 3 - Delaware Valley Raptor Center handles anywhere from 60 to 100 birds of prey a year. Streeter said they have been rehabilitating raptors for over 30 years, and this was the first snowy owl they had received.
An unusually high "irruption" of snowy owls has been observed this year migrating into the northeastern United States. Seeking open fields similar to their native tundra, they become a nuisance around airports where measures must be taken to keep them away from aircraft.
Streeter said that it is less common to see a snowy owl in Pennsylvania and points south.
A snowy owl was seen last year at Promised Land State Park by one of the staff, Sidle said. His father had also seen one in northern Wayne County at Pine Mill.
Sidle said this was the first snowy owl that he had seen.
He stated that there were no signs of injury and it appears the bird was simply emaciated from not finding enough prey.
Although not known why this owl could not fine enough to eat, he said that first year owls are less experienced at finding food. Treatment of any starving bird has to be taken slowly, to ensure it can handle the food. They first must be hydrated and then given small amounts of meat without feathers or bone.
The American Museum of Natural History has since contacted the Center requesting its carcass to do tissue samples. The Museum may also have a necropsy performed.
Her death was particularly sad, Streeter said, since the bird at first showed little sign that it could be saved. The snowy then showed progress, and Streeter's hopes were up. "This was a really cool bird," he said. "This one stole my heart."
••• What they do
Delaware Valley Raptor Center provides rehabilitative services for birds of prey and does public education concerning raptors. They are a private, not-for-profit, state tax exempt state and federally licensed organization. Memberships are available. They are funded by donations.
Most of the birds they treat are brought in by the public, Streeter said. They typically treat eagles, hawks, owls and falcons. They have rehabilitated many great horned owls, which are related to the snowy owl species.
Streeter said that if someone finds a sick or injured bird of prey, it should be captured in a cardboard box, sliding a cardboard under it to then flip it over; a towel or blanket may be used to throw on the bird, covering its eyes, while placing it in a box. Contact the Delaware Valley Raptor Center or another rehabilitator that may be closer, Streeter said. Depending on where it was found, they may refer them to another facility.
Their staff consists of Bill and Stephanie Streeter and Jan Lucciola, with help from some volunteers.
Page 3 of 3 - For more information on their work, call 570-296-6616 visit online at dvrconline.org.