D.C. owl set to be released from rehab

The snowy owl that captivated the region when it appeared in downtown D.C. — only to get hit by a bus, evade police for hours and eventually wind up in a rehabilitation facility in Minnesota — will finally be released back into the wild this weekend.

After finishing rehab at the University of Minnesota’s Raptor Center, the snowy owl will be released Saturday along the northern border between Minnesota and Wisconsin, the center said Friday.

“Once the snowy owl is released, what it will do is speculation,” Raptor Center clinic manager Lori Arent said in a statement. “It may stay in the area for a few days, but its migratory urge will eventually encourage it to move north. The upper Midwest makes a lot of sense as a starting point for that journey.”

Snowy owls had flocked to points across the Eastern United States and beyond last winter, captivating scientists, birders and people startled to see an Arctic bird so far from the Arctic. One theory suggested by scientists posits that a spike in the lemming population may have caused the birds, fat from a lemming buffet, to fly farther in search of more food.

The female D.C. owl seemingly first appeared in downtown Washington in January, prompting pedestrians to stop, gawk and snap photos on their cameras. It appeared days later perched on a ledge outside The Washington Post’s headquarters, leading to a large group of rotating observers gathering on the sidewalk below.

But the next week, the owl’s story took an outlandish turn: It was hit by a Metrobus and then an SUV. Somehow, the owl not only survived but also proceeded to lead police on a two-hour chase through downtown before officers were able to capture it.

The owl was taken to the National Zoo for treatment and then to City Wildlife, a D.C. rehabilitation facility. Later, it was taken to the Minnesota center to finish rehab and pick up some replacement feathers to sub for wing feathers that looked burned or singed, which could have been caused by flying over a heat source.

These feathers were replaced to allow the owl to properly fly and maneuver in the wild, and a test flight this month was a success, the center said.

The owl’s release comes nearly three months after it was first spotted in the District, along with another, less-heralded snowy owl patient from Wisconsin.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news and developing stories from around the country.
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