Snowy owl moves on, with no goodbye

February 11, 2014

In the end, the snowy owl was true to its nature. She was cold. She left the city Sunday without saying goodbye.

City Wildlife, where the Arctic owl was taken with head trauma and a fractured toe after she was struck by a bus and SUV in downtown Washington, announced Tuesday that she was secretly moved to a much bigger clinic with a warehouse-sized flight cage.

It is a sort of witness-protection program. City Wildlife Executive Director Paula Goldberg refused to name the facility, saying only that it’s in the Mid-Atlantic area. At the new clinic, bird experts and veterinarians will make plans for her release, the final goodbye.

“We had an agreement” with the bigger clinic, Goldberg said. No press. The clinic didn’t want admirers snooping around, or anyone with weird thoughts, such as theft. There was no trust.

The cold shoulder is kind of understandable. The city showed the owl a beloved face — adoring crowds taking fuzzy cellphone pictures when she first appeared in late January on a CVS awning at 15th and K streets NW and then on a ledge outside The Washington Post a couple days later.

The snowy owl that has been spotted recently in Washington, D.C., was brought to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo for care after reportedly being hit by a bus near 15th and I streets NW. The owl, a female, was transferred by police and immediately cared for at the zoo’s hospital. (Video courtesy of the Smithsonian's National Zoo)

Then, in the early morning hours of January 30, a bus and all-terrain vehicle hit her as she searched for food. Before her near-death experience, the snowy owl may have eaten rodents laced with poison laid out by the city to kill them.

For slightly more than a week, the owl literally chilled out at City Wildlife, where the rooms were kept cold for her. She got a room, X-rays, DNA tests that revealed her sex and plenty of white mice.

At first she ate only four mice in a single gulp. But when her health improved, she ate eight in one night on Thursday.

As it turned out, Goldberg said, a healthy snowy owl is a feisty snowy owl. She was antsy, bumping around in her little kennel, giving her handlers the evil eye.

“We had been talking to a veterinarian last week,” said Goldberg. “She became so active and unhappy, and we knew it was in her best interest.”

The snowy owl will be observed by specialists linked to Project Snow Storm, an owl watch for the irruption from the Arctic that has led to rare appearances across the United States.

Will she go back home when other snowy owls are expected to take wing there in April? “At this point, I don’t know,” Goldberg said.

Darryl Fears has worked at The Washington Post for more than a decade, mostly as a reporter on the National staff. He currently covers the environment, focusing on the Chesapeake Bay and issues affecting wildlife.
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