Wildlife Watch: Snowy owls

Published: Feb. 6, 2018 at 5:59 PM EST
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A rehabbed snowy owl was brought from North Carolina to Vermont to be released. So what does it take to rehab a bird like a snowy owl and why did the rehabilitators choose Vermont to set the bird free?

Our Cat Viglienzoni takes a look in our Wildlife Watch. Plus, she found out where you can go if you want to catch a glimpse of one of these beautiful birds. Watch the video to see.

Cat Viglienzoni/WCAX: We're here with John Buck, who's a wildlife biologist with the Fish & Wildlife Department. Thanks for joining us. Tell us a little bit about Dead Creek here. We saw a snowy owl released earlier. Why is this such a good spot for them?

John Buck/ Vt. Fish & Wildlife Department: Dead Creek is a wonderful place because it is a very large piece of land conserved by the Fish & Wildlife Department that also represents, as best we can in Vermont, the tundra habitat that the snowy owls are more familiar with

Cat: And is there a good amount of food here for them this time of year?

John Buck: There will be with the snowless kind of winter we're having right now. A lot of the mammals and birds that are using the area here will make good food. And there's some perching spots. And like I said, it represents a large, flat, expansive area, which they are accustomed to in their tundra habitat.

Cat: And did we see another snowy owl earlier too?

John Buck: We did see another snowy. It's pretty remarkable. But not that unusual this time of year. We often get a snowy or two here at Dead Creek because it reminds them of their home, basically. And they're migrating out or they're leaving because of territorial reasons with more adult and established owls in Canada, where they're from. And they're just finding their way. Most of these birds that we see in Vermont in the wintertime are birds that were hatched last summer. So they're not even a year old. And they're kind-of finding their way.

Cat: And they find their way here. Is this one of the best spots in the state for people to come see them, if they want to do some spotting?

John Buck: I would say it is. We have a nice viewing area here where people can get off the road safely and people look out over these large fields of corn and alfalfa and other grasses where these owls are likely to be hunting.

Cat: And do we expect it to stick around or is it going to head north further?

John Buck: You know, that's a really good question. Nobody knows the answer. But it will hang around for a while while it gets its bearings. And depending on how much competition it receives from other birds that are here, that will determine a large part of how long it will stay. But then nature takes over and then these birds will head back to Canada where evolution and instinct brings them back each year.

Cat: And you banded it. Do you expect that band to kind-of return, or is that just in case someone up in Canada finds it?

John Buck: Well, wherever it's spotted again, and if that band can be seen and identified, it will be recorded and it will give us some great point-to-point information about where that bird has been.

Cat: Wonderful, thank you.

John Buck: All right, my pleasure.

Cat: And Lauren Adams is with VINS -- she joins us here now. So tell us a little bit about bird rehab. When someone brings an injured bird, like a snowy owl in, what happens? What do you first assess?

Lauren Adams/VINS: So first thing we do is a physical examination. We identify all injuries or issues that the bird is having. And then we start a treatment plan. So example, with this particular owl, the bird was emaciated and starving -- there might be a broken bone.

Cat: Your goal is to release, so you don't want it to become too used to humans. How do you walk that line between enough contact to give it the care it needs and not too much contact so that it gets used to humans?

Lauren Adams: We limit human contact as much as possible. Obviously, if a bird is on treatment daily, it will be interacting daily with humans. Pretty much all adult birds in care are NOT interested in people and humans are scary and it is stressful on them.

Cat: What's the usual success rate? Do more birds go back out than stay to be education ambassadors or things like that?

Lauren Adams: More birds do go back out and get released. When we are considering permanent placement, that would be for a bird that has not 100 percent healed, or has a not treatable injury. But the goal is getting them out in the wild. Permanent placement is kind-of like a last resort.

Cat: So today's was an extra success then?

Lauren Adams: Absolutely.

Cat: All right. Lauren -- thank you so much.