More owls are needing help this winter from Medicine River Wildlife Centre. (Photo from Facebook)

Heavy snow hard on owls

More owls at Medicine River Wildlife Centre

More owls than usual have ended up at Medicine River Wildlife Centre, many of them starving from all the snow in Central Alberta this winter.

“It’s been an owl winter. We’ve had lots of owls, many of them are coming in slightly injured, but mostly starved. When it’s deep snow it’s harder to get food,” said executive-director Carol Kelly on Wednesday.

One owl was easily capture while sitting on a loading-zone sign between The Bay and Shoppers Drug Mart at Bower Place. It sat there so long people were taking photos of it, she said.

The overall recovery rate for injured and orphaned animals at the wildlife hospital, located west of Innisfail, is about 60 per cent. But the rate has been lower for owls this winter. Starvation can lead to organ failure and injury due to weakness. But injury can also cause starvation, she said.

“We don’t know what comes first. Two were euthanized the past week or so because their wings are so badly broken there were dead bones sticking out everywhere.”

When recovered, Medicine River Wildlife Centre returns wildlife to their natural environment.

About 20 owls have been taken to the centre. As many as a dozen are in the centre’s big flight pen outside. One is still in treatment in the hospital.

“Many of them are ready to release pretty quick. We just released a great grey owl. Two snowy owls are just about ready. I got a great grey owl a few days ago that bounced back really nicely. It wasn’t starved.”

Many of the owls brought to the centre are great grey owls because there are more of them in the area. Only four snowy owls arrived needing help.

She said a number of calls have come in about smaller owls, like boreal owls, spotted in urban areas. A lady in Red Deer saw an owl in the tree in her yard on Tuesday.

“Diving through the snow to catch mice is next to impossible for these little guys. So we’re getting lots of reports of people seeing them in their trees. They’re just coming closer to people because there are bird feeders.”

Kelly said great horned owls are nesting in the wild right now.

“We’ll start seeing babies anytime soon.”

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