The Washington Post

Snowy owl doing well at rehab facility: Was hit by a bus Thursday morning

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

As society’s protectors, police look out for the vulnerable on the after-dark streets of the city. Early Thursday, three D.C. police officers demonstrated this, showing determination and ingenuity to save an injured snowy owl.

Friday night, two of them detailed the manner in which they saved the venturesome avian, which, in a cold winter, had flown far south of its normal haunts to captivate Washington.

The latest information on the condition of the injured owl indicated that it was in stable condition, largely due to good police work by officers Lauren Griffin and Othneil Blagrove. Their keen observation, patience and improvisational skill got the owl to safety and into rehab.

The officers said they were on patrol at 14th and K streets NW about 12:30 a.m. when Blagrove spotted something unusual. Blagrove, a rookie, told Griffin, who was helping to break him in, that he had spotted the bird in the roadway on 14th.

Griffin said she at first thought it was a bag, but its movement convinced her that it was, in fact, the owl.

Then the light changed, the officers said. A Metro bus, and then an SUV, struck the white-feathered owl, which had been spotted in recent days in multiple locations downtown. Passersby have gaped, gawked and grinned to see it, capturing its image on their smartphones. Snowy owls are native to the Arctic, but can venture south in search of food.

Being hit Thursday might have meant the end of the snowy owl’s Washington ad­ven­ture. But the owl, although injured, had survived its traffic encounter.

For the next two hours, the officers trailed the bird as it took to the air and darted around the downtown area. As they kept their eyes on it, they tried to summon medical treatment.

Finally, they said, the National Zoo’s police force supplied them with a contact at the zoo.

Eventually, the owl settled into a spot accessible from the ground near the W Hotel, in the 500 block of 15th Street NW, the officers said.

With the aid of a third officer, Kenneth Downey, they set out to capture the bird.

Blagrove beamed a flashlight into the owl’s eyes, fixing it to the spot. Downey approached it with a blanket, and Griffin held out a cardboard carton in which to confine it.

From moonlight to spotlight, the D.C. snowy owl pays the Post a visit. (Jacques Ledbetter/The Washington Post)

They took the owl to the zoo, where it was treated and examined, and then turned over to a rehabilitation facility.

“The snowy owl continues to remain in stable condition at City Wildlife,” Abby Hehmeyer, a wildlife biologist at the rehab center, said in an e-mail Saturday evening.

A toe on its left foot was broken; it might also have internal and head injuries, authorities said. Blood tests showed that the bird is anemic, so the animal’s “prognosis is still guarded” as it deals with its injuries and the anemia, Hehmeyer said.

The rehab facility will care for the owl until it is well enough to be released into the wild.

The owl had brightened recent frigid days in Washington when it made its appearances near McPherson Square.

For a time, it perched on a beam one story above the sidewalk, only a few feet from an entrance to The Washington Post. It seemed unruffled by the stares of the constantly changing group of watchers gathered on the sidewalk below.

Staff writers Martin Weil, Mark Berman and Peter Hermann contributed to this report.

Clarence Williams is the night police reporter for The Washington Post and has spent the better part of 13 years standing next to crime scene tape, riding in police cars or waking officials in the middle of night to gather information about breaking news in and around Washington.
Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.

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