Birds: Blood, Sweat, and Tears (Part 2)

I was afraid this would happen. When I first heard that there was a snowy owl hanging out in downtown D.C., my first thought was, “It’ll probably get hit by a car.”

Snowy owl in downtown D.C.

Snowy owl in downtown D.C.

Unfortunately, it did: it got hit by a bus and an SUV. Luckily, it got transferred to a local wildlife rehabilitator, and then to a raptor-specific rehabilitation center: the Raptor Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, where it was then released (Washington Post, 4/23/2014).

The Washington Post reported that this female snowy owl has died, most likely due to a vehicle hit (WP, 8/23/2014). I still want to weep just thinking about it. Birds have so many enemies: cat, windows, cars, habitat loss, and others. They are all formidable enemies. But from a personal perspective, most of the birds I see at the Raptor Conservancy of Virginia are car hits.

At least 340 million birds each year die from being hit by cars (USA Today, 5/29/2014). That is literally mountains and mountains of innocent dead birds.

Three things I’ve learned from my work at the Raptor Conservancy. First, you can’t predict how a bird will fare (after a car hit) just by looking at it. Some look bad and actually recover, if properly cared for by a trained, licensed rehabilitator. Some look fine yet die due to internal injuries; a bird who seems to be recovering can die suddenly. It is very, very hard to predict which birds will make it.

Any kind of trash will attract bird prey.

Any kind of trash will attract bird prey.

But here’s the practical advice I have for you: two things. First, your litter/trash brings death to birds. If you throw trash from your car and it’s anywhere near a road, that trash brings rodents/small critters who then attract birds. The birds swoop down to get their prey and get hit by cars. They can’t help it: nothing in their evolutionary history prepared them for the car. It’s basically their death-bringer.

Second: if you see an injured bird, please call animal control. They can get the bird to a bird rehabilitator. If you have the time, and I hope you do, please wrap the bird in a towel, put it in a well-ventilated box/cage, and physically take it to animal control. Time is of the essence. Once a bird’s condition gets too low (after an injury), its chances drop of being saved.

May others survive and thrive.

May others survive and thrive.

In spite of the sad end to the snowy owl, I know that there were many individuals who worked very hard to try to put the female snowy owl back in the wild where she belonged.

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About Carey Hagan

I'm a reference librarian in Virginia and I do children's and YA [young adult] reader's advisory.
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