Rehabbed snowy owl catches flight to Vermont for release

ADDISON, Vt. (WCAX) A beautiful bird found far from home was released into Vermont Tuesday. It's a journey that started nearly 800 miles away in North Carolina. A snowy owl was found starving on an airport runway. Now, it has a second chance.

Courtesy: Joe Amodeo/Carolina Raptor Center

The Carolina Raptor Center sees all kinds of owls but not this kind. So when the call came in that a snowy owl had been picked up at an airport in Greensboro, North Carolina...

"I'm going to be honest. I was questioning it when they're like, 'We have a snowy owl.' I was like, 'Well sure you do,'" said Lauren Allen of the Carolina Raptor Center.

But once raptor tech Lauren Allen saw it, she knew this bird was far from home. And he needed help.

"The bird was very underweight, not in great condition," Allen said.

She and the rest of the staff cared for the snowy owl, only the second one to come through their doors. And unlike the first, this one started to recover.

"Within a few days, we knew," Allen said.

But they also knew it couldn't be released in North Carolina.

"You can't keep them in the south. They cannot live in these temperatures and this humid climate. They'll die," said Mathias Engelmann, a senior medical coordinator at the Carolina Raptor Center.

Another raptor center put them in touch with the Vermont Institute of Natural Sciences in Quechee, which has its own rehab program.

"They contacted us to release the bird closer to its natural range," said Lauren Adams, the lead wildlife keeper at VINS.

But how do you get a snowy owl 800 miles north? You find a wildlife enthusiast who's also a pilot.

"One of our donors was like, 'Hey, if you need help transporting a bird, I'll do it,'" Allen said.

That's how this snowy owl ended up flying north in a private plane with an entourage bound for Burlington. They landed Monday afternoon in a much colder climate but to a warm welcome. Staffers told us he didn't thrash on the trip and wrapped wings kept his feathers safe in transit.

"Went pretty well. The bird did great," said Robert Touchstone, the development director at the Carolina Raptor Center.

After spending the night at VINS, the last leg of this owl's journey was to go to the Dead Creek Wildlife Refuge in Addison, where experts say the habitat reminds the owl of the tundra up in Canada.

The final steps happen quickly. Unwrapping the owl's wing protections, banding it with its own unique number, and then saying goodbye. The owl took flight, leaving a lasting impression on the people who brought it home.

"The bird flew off just beautifully," Adams said. "It's exactly what you want to see on a release."

"It's magic. This is well worth the trip up here," Allen said. "I'm so glad I got to be a part of this."

Asked how they would have gotten the owl to Vermont if the pilot hadn't volunteered his plane, they said they would have flown the bird commercial but it would have been more stressful.



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