Friday, February 18, 2011

Center for Wildlife Caring for Record Number of Injured Owls

2010-2011 has been an especially difficult winter for owls in Maine, and the Center for Wildlife is providing medical care for their heaviest load ever of injured owls. CFW has admitted 36 owls (30 of them barred owls) since October. On average, the Center sees fewer than ten each winter, so with more than triple that many, all of its flight enclosures are full. In 2008, its previous record owl year, the Center had only 17 admissions by January 1, and by that day this year had already hit 27!
Nearly all of these owl patients were hit by cars. Hunting in the winter is especially challenging, as many rodents hibernate or den up for days on end, and the ones who are active can hide under snow. Thus, food becomes scarce just at the time when owls burn extra energy keeping warm through the extreme cold. Making matters worse are the heavy storms that make hunting impossible on some nights – leaving the owl even hungrier and further compromised the following night. Fortunately, most of the Center’s patients this winter are not starving: they seem to be managing to find sufficient food, but they’re doing so by hunting in the roads. On plowed roads, prey animals are easier to locate, and food trash thrown from car windows attracts rodents to the road, which in turn attract hungry owls.
This dangerous road hunting is the cause of most owl admissions – all but two patients were hit by cars, sustaining various injuries including leg and wing fractures, lacerations, head trauma, and most commonly, eye trauma. The large eyes, which allow owls to see well in low light, also mean that most trauma to their head results in some level of damage to one or both eyes. Many of these owls have a good chance of recovery, but they need lots of time as eye injuries heal very slowly. The most seriously impaired will be kept through the winter, saving them from having to adjust to hunting with a vision handicap at a time when heavy snow cover makes hunting most difficult. Having such a large load of long-term cases puts a strain on the Center’s cage space and human resources, and CFW depends on donations from the public to provide the medical care, food, housing, and monitoring necessary to get these birds back into the wild.
CFW has set up a special Emergency Owl Treatment Fund and you can help by donating by credit card on CFW’s website ( or by mailing a check to: Center for Wildlife, P.O. Box 620, Cape Neddick, ME 03902. All donations are tax-deductible.
Photo caption: The Center for Wildlife is currently caring for a record number of injured owls, putting a strain on their resources this winter. (Courtesy photo)