Tuesday, January 16, 2018

An irruption of owls leads to rescue, rehabilitation, release

In late November, a snowy owl was found in the parking lot at our headquarters in downtown Milwaukee. A month and a half later, the owl was released in Port Washington thanks to efforts of the Wisconsin Humane Society’s Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. 

The owl, named Iglaak (an Inuit word meaning “traveler” or “visitor”) by the Wisconsin Humane Society, was treated for parasites, malnourishment and a fractured toe then released into the wild by Scott Diehl, wildlife director at the Wisconsin Humane Society.

“I tossed Iglaak into the air and let him go,” Diehl said. “He took off like a champ, flew and flew then soared and then had a nice landing out in the field.”

Scott Diehl, wildlife director at the Wisconsin Humane Society, prepares to release Iglaak the snowy owl in Port Washington. (Photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Humane Society)
Diehl added that while it was a bit chilly for the few spectators and media crews, the temperature was perfect for Iglaak. “It’s never too cold to release a snowy owl,” he said.

Diehl and his team choose the date and location for these types of releases carefully, factoring in the bird’s health, weather and ideal habitat for the release to be successful. The site in Port Washington, the Forest Beach Migratory Preserve, is a large expanse of open space with tundra-like features and gave Iglaak access to the shoreline for optimal waterfowl hunting.

Many snowy owls have been spotted in Wisconsin and across the Northeast and Midwest this winter. This phenomenon of increased snowy owl sightings is called an irruption. During an irruption, more owls fly farther south than normal. Most of the owls are juveniles in search of food and habitat.

In November, We Energies employees found Iglaak in a company 
parking lot and contacted the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
“It’s really fascinating what’s occurring,” said Mike Grisar, principal environmental consultant for We Energies. “Just before the new year, there were over 200 individual snowies sighted in Wisconsin. We know this because of surveys conducted by Project Snowstorm that include putting transmitters on and tagging the birds. To have one show up on our doorstep, in our parking lot, was really an exciting day.”

Grisar recalls when snowy owl sightings were rare. He notes that people who research snowy owls in depth don’t yet know why these irruptions occur, but speculations include an increase in population, or the result of laws that make it illegal to kill birds of prey.

Through his work, Diehl has seen four snowy owls this year, including Iglaak, who is the only one to survive.

“The effort to rehabilitate any creature is a community effort,” Diehl said. “It starts with those who report the animal, the volunteers who transport it, and the people and organizations who support our work and help us follow through on the original compassion of saving the bird.”

To learn more about snowy owls, visit Project Snowstorm.

To learn more about the Wisconsin Humane Society Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, visit them on Facebook.

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