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.”
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.
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.
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.