by Joel Strottrup
Three juvenile male snowy owls were released at Sherburne National Wildlife Refuge with the releasers hoping the owls, that had ended up in the United States after flying down from the Arctic as part of what is known as an “irruption,” would return to the Arctic.
All three owls had undergone rehabilitation, much of it at the Raptor Center on the campus of the University of Minnesota’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Two of the owls were found injured in Nebraska and the third was found injured along railroad tracks in Minneapolis, possibly hit by a train.
An irruption is defined as a dramatic and irregular migration of birds to areas where they are typically not found, and the distance can be great.
The main food source for the snowy owl is the lemming, a type of rodent, and they were in short supply north of the United States this year, according to the U of M’s Raptor Center. One of the two snowy owls from Nebraska that was released Saturday at Sherburne refuge near Zimmerman had been shot and had a fractured collarbone, according to Raptor Center clinic manager Lori Arent. The second snowy owl from Nebraska had a fractured wing. The snowy owl found in Minneapolis had internal injuries. Once the owls were rehabilitated, volunteers reconditioned the three snowy owls by letting them fly on the end of a long string to build up their muscles and endurance, Arent said.
The Raptor Center had a total of 13 snowy owls at one point, with seven of them not surviving, Arent said on Monday. Of the three that were at the Raptor Center on Monday, two are doing real well, she said.
One of the problems is the younger snowy owls often do not recognize rodents that
aren’t lemmings and then may starve.
A small crowd gathered, most with cameras, for the release of the three snowy owls under an overcast sky last Saturday morning. The three people chosen to release them were selected from supporters of or volunteers with either the Raptor Center or Sherburne refuge.
The three owls were released south over a prairie landscape with a grove of trees in the distance. Arent noted that after nearly everyone had left the gathering spot, one of the three owls could be seen flying north-northwest high overhead.