After suffering blunt trauma injuries due to a collision in traffic and being left for dead at the intersection of I-270 and Sawmill Road, a rarely seen snowy owl was scooped up by a passing driver and rushed to the Ohio Wildlife Center hospital.
“Our emergency wildlife hospital was the bird’s only option for immediate medical attention,” said Celeste Dusty Lombardi, Ohio Wildlife Center executive director. “With an almost five-foot wingspan, bright white plumage, a preference for open areas and daytime hunting, snowy owls seem almost untouchable, but even these birds are no match for high-speed vehicles on highways.”
Logan Oates, the community engagement coordinator, said Thomas Gillotte and his mother, Tamie Hegnecy, were driving when they noticed the injured bird on the side of the highway ramp. They gently wrapped the owl in a towel and brought it to the hospital which was less than a mile from where it was found. He said when they arrived at the hospital Hegnecy told staff the bird was a snowy owl.
“When the owl arrived it had signs of trauma consistent with being struck very hard,” said Casey Philip, Ohio Wildlife Center’s hospital director. “She had received a blow to her head affecting her vision because of blood in her eye and a blow to one of her wings.”
Philip speculates the owl saw a “tasty snack” on the side of the road, swooped down to catch it, but caught the impact of a vehicle instead. She said the hospital staff is “happy with the owl’s progress” and the owl herself seems happy with the hospital food because “she is self-feeding.”
According to center experts, sighting a snowy owl in Central Ohio is uncommon. The raptor typically spends summers hunting in the arctic regions of Alaska and Canada, favoring flat open spaces such as shorelines and fields. Often they perch on fences and utility poles, swooping down flying close to the ground to feed on waterfowl and small mammals.
“There have been periodic southern migrations called irruptions that have occurred around the Great Lakes,” Philip said. “When Mother Nature provides a climate for a greater number of owls to survive and the population expands, they begin to move south for food.”
Philip said experts are predicting an irruption this year. She said Michigan is currently recording large numbers of owl sightings in the Upper Peninsula. In 2014, an irruption occurred with more than 150 of the owls being sighted across Ohio.
According to the hospital’s statistics, the snowy owl is one of 5,200 animals that have been treated this year at the Ohio Wildlife Center and the first snowy owl treated in 15 to 20 years.
Ohio Wildlife Center is dedicated to fostering awareness and appreciation of Ohio’s native wildlife through rehabilitation, education, and wildlife health studies. For information, go to www.ohiowildlifecenter.org.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.