Snowy owl pulled from grille of SUV

Rescuer says the animal is healing after being struck by a large vehicle in Saskatchewan

The director of an animal rescue group in Regina says she’s seeing a big increase in the number of injured snowy owls, but last week was the first time she pulled one out of a vehicle’s grille.

Megan Lawrence with Salthaven West says she rushed to the scene on Thursday where a woman waited in a parking lot after hitting one of the large white birds with her SUV.

“It’s not unusual for animals to be hit by vehicles but usually they end up bouncing off and ending up in the ditches,” Lawrence said in an interview Sunday.

Lawrence said the woman hit the owl a few moments earlier and assumed it was likely dead on the road behind her. She pulled into a parking lot to see if her Chevrolet Tahoe sustained damage, and to her amazement, found a snowy owl trapped inside the grille.

And it wasn’t dead.

The woman phoned Saskatchewan’s environment ministry and a conservation officer quickly contacted Lawrence, who keeps rescue gear inside her car.

“He was standing up inside the grille, however, we could see that his eyes were closed. He wasn’t moving a lot, and when I started to reach in to get him out he wasn’t fighting back a lot, so that told me that he was pretty severely injured,” Lawrence said, noting she wore thick leather gloves.

“You want to reach in and get the feet first because those are what they’re going to start attacking you with before the beak.”

Carefully, Lawrence said, she extracted the owl from the grille while keeping its wings close to its body so it wouldn’t suffer further injury. Raptors can be quite aggressive, but Lawrence said the owl didn’t put up much of a fight, making it obvious to her that it needed help.

She brought it to the Animal Clinic of Regina for X-rays where it was determined one of its wings was broken and it had also suffered a concussion.

Lawrence said that despite its injuries and ordeal, ”Tahoe” as staff have named him, will hopefully make a full recovery.

This month, snowy owls were listed as vulnerable — one step away from endangered — by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The large white raptors have descended on the Great Lakes region and northeastern U.S. in huge numbers in recent weeks, hanging out at airports, in farm fields, on light poles and along beaches, to the delight of bird lovers.

But researchers say the population of snowy owls is likely far less than previously thought and are using the opportunity to study them.

Instead of 300,000 snowy owls worldwide, as long believed, researchers say the population likely is closer to 30,000 or fewer.

The previous calculation assumed snowy owls acted like other birds, favouring fixed nesting and wintering sites. But researchers discovered the owls are nomads, often nesting or wintering thousands of kilometres from previous locations.

Lawrence said the first year Salthaven West was operating, they rescued a couple of snowy owls. Last year it was four or five, and this year it’s up to ten.

Mostly, she said, they’ve been hit by cars.

“Animals don’t know to look both ways before they cross the road, so once they get their eyes on some prey they’re going to follow it until they catch it. And of course in the Arctic, where they come from, there’s not a lot of vehicle traffic. They’re not used to that at all,” Lawrence said.

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